The Nationals shored up second base Wednesday night, acquiring infielder Yunel Escobar from the Oakland Athletics for two-time all-star reliever Tyler Clippard.
The loss of Clippard, an all-star last season and in 2011, will require some late-inning shuffling in bullpen. But the deal nets the Nationals a 32-year-old infielder who can play second this season and slide over to shortstop should Ian Desmond, a free agent after this season, depart.
Clippard, who turns 30 next month, has been one of the most consistent late-inning performers in baseball over the past five seasons, averaging 74 games and 78 2/3 innings pitched over that span. His 75 appearances were fourth in the league, and he threw to a 2.18 ERA with an excellent .995 WHIP.
Clippard recorded 32 saves when serving as the closer in 2012, and over five seasons has posted a 3.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This is Clippard’s final year of arbitration before hitting the free agent market; his arbitration salary is projected to be in the range of $8 to 9 million.
Escobar is a career .276 hitter who has proven a durable option in the middle infield: over the past three seasons with the Rays, he has averaged 145 games. Normally a plus defender according to advanced metrics, Escobar’s defense fell off considerably last season. He displayed less range at shortstop than he had in any year prior, as measured by the Revised Zone Rating, which measures how many of the balls hit into a player’s fielding area are converted to outs. His runs saved above average fell below average for the first time, and he committed 16 errors, fourth-most among MLB shortstops.
Second base requires less range, and so any defensive dropoff Escobar is experiencing should be masked there — though the dip in numbers was so noticeable it is reasonable to consider he may just have had a down year.
Escobar’s contract keeps him under team control through 2015 and 2016 with a club option for 2017. Should Desmond depart when his contract expires after this season, Escobar could serve as a bridge to Trea Turner, the shortstop super prospect acquired from the Padres in the Steven Souza Jr. deal. Escobar is scheduled to make $5 million in 2015.
The loss of Clippard will be felt, but the move saves the Nationals somewhere between $3 to $4 million, depending on Clippard’s arbitration process. Washington has young arms behind him in Blake Treinen, Matt Grace, A.J. Cole, and Sammy Solis, but few relievers in the game have duplicated Clippard’s consistent reliability over the past five years.
Drafted by the Yankees in 2003, Clippard has been a part of the Nationals organization since 2007, when he was acquired in exchange for Jonathan Albaladejo.