Who knew a trip down memory lane would be so popular? The response to Thursday’s article tracking down five former Nationals position players were overwhelmingly positive. Glad you all enjoyed it.
I had already planned to publish today’s article about former Nats pitchers, so hopefully you’ll enjoy these as well. Maybe I’ll have to make this into something of a regular feature, though, maybe a more in-depth look at one ex-National at a time, because there were plenty I didn’t get to yet.
One addendum to Thursday’s article: Roger Bernadina, who put up huge numbers in Korea this season, just decided to re-sign with the champion Kia Tigers for $1.1 million. So The Shark will be staying in Asia for another year.
And with that, here’s today’s look at some pitchers who names will be bring back plenty of memories (some good, some bad, I suppose) ...
The club’s all-time leader in games pitched by a longshot (he’s at 414, with Drew Storen next at 355), Clippard has turned into a baseball nomad since the Nationals traded him to the Athletics in January 2015 for Yunel Escobar. He has, remarkably, pitched for six different teams in three years. And not because he hasn’t been effective.
Clippard posted a 2.92 ERA in 2015, then a 3.57 ERA in 2016. His numbers ballooned to 4.77 this season, but overall he has remained a fairly reliable reliever. The A’s traded him to the Mets for the 2015 stretch run (he wound up pitching in the World Series). After becoming a free agent, he signed a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks, who after falling out of contention in July 2016 traded him to the Yankees. He opened this season in the Bronx but was sent to the White Sox as part of the David Robertson-Todd Frazier deal. Only a few weeks later, he was traded again, this time to the Astros.
Clippard struggled in Houston, posting a 6.43 ERA in 16 games, and as a result he didn’t make the postseason roster. But he nonetheless was with the Astros during their World Series run and he’ll now be the proud owner of a championship ring as the 32-year-old again becomes a free agent and looks to find a more permanent landing spot.
The Nationals hoped to keep Melancon after his strong two-plus months to wrap up the 2016 season, but the veteran closer couldn’t say no to the Giants’ four-year, $62 million offer. In the end, the Nats might just be better off for not matching that offer.
Melancon’s long-term stint in San Francisco got off to a decent start; he blew a save on opening day but then converted 10 of his next 11 and owned a 2.20 ERA in early June. But he blew a couple more saves in June and then landed on the disabled list with what was called a forearm strain. He returned to pitch some in August and early September but then learned what exactly was going on: chronic compression in his pronator muscle.
That injury required season-ending surgery, which included six weeks of rehab. Melancon is expected to be 100 percent healthy in advance of spring training, but after an injury-plagued year the right-hander is going to enter his age-33 season as a significant question mark for the Giants. (The Nationals, meanwhile, have new closer Sean Doolittle under their control for the next three seasons.)
The Nationals didn’t want to give up Rivero to get Melancon at the 2016 trade deadline, but they really had no choice. They needed an experienced closer for the rest of that season, so they had to be willing to part with a promising young left-hander. Nobody complained about the move at the time, but they certainly are now after Rivero blossomed into a star with the Pirates.
Pittsburgh had Rivero begin the season in a setup role, but by mid-June - with closer Tony Watson struggling and Rivero owning an ERA under 0.60 - the move was made. And it paid off. The lefty converted 21 of 23 save opportunities and ended the year with a 1.67 ERA and the security of knowing he’ll be a big part of the Pirates bullpen for years to come.
Only 26, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration this winter for the first time as a Super Two player. That means he’s still under Pittsburgh’s control for another four seasons, unable to become a free agent until 2022. That’s a difficult pill for the Nats to swallow.
Few names in Nationals history elicit more of a reaction (positive or negative) than this one, mostly because he was at the center of some of the most important (often worst) moments in club history. The Nats finally parted ways with their embattled reliever after the 2015 season, trading him to the Blue Jays for Ben Revere. It’s been a long and winding road ever since.
Storen was a disaster in Toronto (6.21 ERA, 1.590 WHIP in 38 games) but he righted his ship the second half of that season in Seattle (3.44 ERA, 0.873 WHIP in 19 games). That led to a one-year, $3 million contract with the Reds, which started out well. Storen had a sub-2.00 ERA through the season’s first half, but then he had some ragged outings in July and August that raised that ERA over 4.00.
Turns out there was something else going on: a torn elbow ligament. He had Tommy John surgery in late September, which means he won’t be ready to pitch in 2018. And as a free agent who will be 31 by the time he’s looking for a job for the 2019 season, Storen is going to have to re-prove himself all over again.
The right-hander caused plenty of traumatic moments for Nationals fans (and uniformed personnel, for that matter) during a disastrous first half to the 2017 season. Named the opening day closer by Dusty Baker, he lost the job within three weeks, having thrown only one clean inning of relief to that point. Treinen was given plenty of opportunities to right his ship in a less pressurized role, but the damage was done. With his ERA at 5.73 and his WHIP a monstrous 1.619, he was dealt to the Athletics as part of the package that brought Doolittle and Ryan Madson to D.C.
Returning to the organization that originally drafted him, Treinen needed some time to get his feet wet. But once he did, he proved to be an effective reliever again. He closed out his season with 10 consecutive scoreless appearances. He also converted 12 consecutive save opportunities (albeit all of them coming for a last-place team).
Now 29, Treinen will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. He’s under Oakland’s control through the 2020 season, and he looks to be part of that organization’s long-term bullpen plans. Perhaps the change of scenery (not to mention a lower-pressure situation) will help the right-hander become the effective reliever many always believed he would be.
JONATHAN PAPELBON and RAFAEL SORIANO
Special honorary mention goes to these two former closers who disappeared off the face of the earth after the Nationals let them go. Soriano did make six appearances for the Cubs in 2015, but he has not pitched in the majors or minors either of the last two seasons, only appearing in games the last two winters in the Dominican Republic (where he did post ERAs under 3.00). Papelbon, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen anywhere near a baseball field since the Nationals released him in August 2016. Given the way things ended for him in D.C., it’s perhaps not surprising no one else has given him a shot.