Sipp, who in 2016 got a three-year, $18 million contract from the Astros, waited out the market, hoping for a significant contract. In the end, he settled for a one-year deal from the Nationals, with $1 million in guaranteed salary this season and a $2.5 million mutual option (or $250,000 buyout) for 2020, according to sources familiar with the terms.
Those modest terms for an accomplished reliever were appealing to the Nats.
“He’s been a guy that we’ve identified,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We think he’s a really good value for us. It was time for him to sign, and we have opportunities for him. This is one of the places he wanted to be, because he’s got a chance to win and he’s been used to that.”
Sipp’s deal won’t be official until he passes a physical, which should take place in the next day or two. But once he arrives, the 35-year-old will jump right in and prepare himself to take on a meaningful role in a Nationals bullpen that has undergone major changes over the last 12 months.
“You can’t have enough lefty specialists,” manager Davey Martinez said.
Martinez and Co. can say that now, but they had been trying to insist all spring to date they were comfortable without a true matchup lefty, believing right-handers Trevor Rosenthal and Wander Suero were well equipped to get left-handed hitters out.
But Saturday’s release of Sammy Solís, who struggled mightily against lefties last season and for several years had been the man on the mound in countless key moments in big ballgames, perhaps signaled a pending upgrade. And they got one in Sipp, who in 54 appearances last season with Houston posted a 1.86 ERA and 1.034 WHIP while holding lefties to a paltry .557 OPS.
“His track record, especially against lefties, is really, really impressive,” said closer Sean Doolittle, who saw Sipp up close many times while pitching for the Athletics. “So having somebody we can use in that role, that is going to give us another weapon and give us some more depth in the bullpen, is huge.”
Though Rizzo has said all along he doesn’t make moves based on the moves of his National League East rivals, the GM surely knew there would be more need for a quality left-hander this season than in the past after the Phillies signed Bryce Harper and the Mets traded for Robinson Canó. Add the Braves’ Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis to the mix, and Sipp figures to find himself pitching to a whole lot of dangerous hitters this season.
“You look around our division now, and each team really has at least one or two big lefties,” Doolittle said. “He, unfortunately, is going to have his work cut out for him. ‘Welcome to the NL East. Here’s Harp. Here’s Freeman. Here’s Canó.’”
Sipp will join Doolittle and the versatile Matt Grace as the lefties in the Nationals’ projected bullpen. Rosenthal will be joined by fellow addition Kyle Barraclough from the right side, with Suero and Justin Miller frontrunners for the final two spots but not guaranteed to head north with the club.
“I think that (Sipp) balances our bullpen out,” Rizzo said. “He’s had success in big moments. He’s been in the playoffs and had success. I think that not only with our division but just in general, I think he’s a sound relief pitcher. And he gets righties out, too. Let’s not forget that.”
Though there will continue to be clamoring for the Nationals to also sign free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, Rizzo reiterated today that ownership intends to stay under Major League Baseball’s $206 million “competitive balance tax.”
Though the GM cited their current payroll as $175 million, he said they are much closer to the threshold when calculating for luxury tax purposes.
“We’re under the CBT, and that’s where we want to stay,” Rizzo said. “And it’s something that we’ve been discussing all season.”
In other news, the Nationals cut six players from big league camp this morning. Reliever Austin Adams was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. Catcher Taylor Gushue and infielders Matt Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jacob Wilson and Luis Garcia were all reassigned to minor league camp.
Update: The Nationals brought their bats here today. Three of their first 10 batters homered, with Trea Turner and Juan Soto going back-to-back against Kevin Gausman in the bottom of the first and Adam Eaton adding a solo shot in the bottom of the second off reliever Rafael De Paula. But Ronald Acuña Jr. isn’t about to let Soto steal the show for himself, right? Acuña doubled in his first at-bat vs. Patrick Corbin, then tripled his next time up (on a ball to right field that had Eaton twisting and turning).
Update II: The home run parade continues. Brian Dozier lofted a high drive deep to left off Max Fried in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Nats four homers today. Corbin wound up going four innings, allowing three runs on six hits but victimized both by his defense and the wind. Sean Doolittle pitched a scoreless fifth, inducing a double-play grounder out of Johan Camargo.
Update III: Trevor Rosenthal allowed an unearned run in the sixth (it’s been a shaky game in the field today) but the Nationals still maintain a 6-4 lead after seven innings.
Update IV: Carter Kieboom’s eighth-inning sac fly plated Hunter Jones. Luis Sardiñas’ opposite-field single brought home Spencer Kieboom, who had singled following his brother’s at-bat, to extend the Nats’ lead to 8-4.
Final update: Austen Williams induced a pair of grounders and then struck out Cristian Pache to seal an 8-4 Nationals win.