A few of you were asking yesterday about some trade rumors floating around as we approach the July 31 deadline - specifically the one that had the Nationals listening to calls for Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen - so I thought I'd answer some of those questions in one shot here with my take on the trade market.
Essentially, I'd say this: You should expect to hear the names of players like Clippard and Storen in trade rumors this month, especially given the philosophy of general manager Mike Rizzo. But that doesn't mean those players are going anywhere.
Rizzo approaches July with the premise that very few of his players are untradable. Now, he has a few that he won't move because of potential, contract value or both (Jordan Zimmermann, Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth), but beyond that, he's not going to shoot down offers for players if there's a team that's offering an attractive package in return. The general manager has been criticized from time to time of falling into that old scout's trap of overvaluing players he found - and that's certainly valid in some cases - but he also believes no one is irreplaceable, and he's got a price point on every player.
Now, his price points on his top commodities tend to run extremely high, which is why I'd find it hard to see Clippard or Storen leaving this month. Rizzo traded All-Star closer Matt Capps to Minnesota last year because he saw an opportunity to get the one player for whom he'd move Capps to the Twins - catcher Wilson Ramos - and he had a chance to get extraordinary value for a player he'd just signed to a one-year deal the previous winter.
Clippard and Storen are different, though; they're young (Clippard is 26, and Storen is 23), cheap (neither player has hit arbitration yet) and have the potential to form a stellar back end of the bullpen for the next few years as the Nationals push toward contention. The team is closer to competing now than it has been in several years, so the need to keep productive major leaguers is higher.
That said, the ability to flip a reliever for a solid position player is a tempting value proposition - especially when a reliever has pitched as much as Clippard (205 2/3 innings since June 2009). Rizzo has seen what happens when a general manager hangs onto a reliever too long, like former GM Jim Bowden did with Chad Cordero, and what he can get in a trade for selling a bullpen piece at his highest value. By that logic, I think it's more likely Clippard would go in a trade than Storen, especially since Rizzo also traded for Henry Rodriguez with the possibility that he could be a setup man. The Nationals are dealing from a surplus in their bullpen, and that's where you'll typically see Rizzo make deals. But he is going to be asking a lot for either player - probably a center fielder who can play now - and it's unlikely he gets it for a bullpen arm.
I still think there's a better chance of seeing a starter (Jason Marquis, Livan Hernandez or Tom Gorzelanny) moving this month than Clippard or Storen. But you shouldn't be surprised to hear those names come up; they're valuable commodities, and they're going to draw interest. Far more phone calls than deals are made this month though, and given Rizzo's trading history of picking out a player he wants and refusing to budge in his price, don't expect to see one of the Nationals' top relievers headed out of town.