Another day, another trade. For the fifth time this off-season, the Oakland A's made a major trade involving members of their projected 25-man roster. This time, the A's dealt newly acquired infielder Yunel Escobar to the Washington Nationals for right-handed set-up man Tyler Clippard. The move opens the A's shortstop position back up for spring competition (with Marcus Semien as the favorite to win the spot) and fills a hole in the back-end of the A's bullpen that was created when Luke Gregerson signed a free agent deal with the Houston Astros.
Clippard comes to the A's with a spectacular resume pitching in the late innings for the Nationals. Since 2010, Clippard has thrown at least 70 innings in each season. His ERA has been under 2.50 each of the past two years. Last season, Clippard appeared in 75 games for the NL East champions. He had a 2.18 ERA in 70.1 innings with 47 hits allowed and an 82:23 K:BB. Clippard allowed just five homeruns. His ERA+ was 173 and his WAR was 1.5 last year, according to Baseball-Reference. Clippard is a two-time All-Star, including last season. In six career post-season innings, Clippard has allowed one run on two hits.
Originally a member of the New York Yankees' organization, Clippard was traded to Washington before the 2008 season. He is a fastball-change-up-slider pitcher. His fastball generally sits in the 88-94 MPH range and his change-up is a plus pitch. Clippard has an unorthodox delivery that creates plenty of deception. He turns 30 next month. This is the second straight off-season the A's have traded a veteran position player for a top NL set-up man. The Gregerson acquisition worked out well for the A's last year.
Clippard joins Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir and Eric O'Flaherty as high-profile A's players eligible for free agency after the 2015 season. All four could be trade chips for the A's mid-season should Oakland be out of contention. The moves to acquire Clippard and Zobrist for, essentially, John Jaso and top prospects Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell are pretty strong indications that the A's front office believes that the team can be competitive in 2015, however.
Although it seems foolhardy to project the A's Opening Day roster right now given the pace of transactions this off-season, it is perhaps a little easier to see what the A's will be looking at come early April. The A's projected 25-man roster, as it stands now:
Ben Zobrist (all IF/OF)
Mark Canha (1B/3B/LF/RF)
Sean Doolittle (LH)
Tyler Clippard (RH)
Eric O'Flaherty (LH)
Ryan Cook (RH)
Fernando Abad (LH)
Dan Otero (RH)
[Open competition] Chris Bassitt (RH)/Sean Nolin (LH)/Evan Scribner (RH)/Kendall Graveman (RH)/Arnold Leon (RH)
Of course, the A's could carry only six relievers and then keep either Nate Freiman (1B/DH) or another infielder such as Tyler Ladendorf (SS/2B/3B), or they could move Chavez into the bullpen and open the fifth starter spot for competition between Bassitt, Nolin, Graveman and Leon. Scribner is out of options, so if he has a strong spring, he could be the favorite for the seventh spot in the A's bullpen, if there is one. R.J. Alvarez and Fernando Rodriguez will also be in the mix for a bullpen spot, but if the A's look to go with a longman in that seventh spot, the pitchers mentioned above are more likely to win the spot.
Playing back-of-the-napkin manager, here are two possible "regular" line-ups for the A's. Versus right-handed pitchers, the A's could send out a line-up of Crisp (CF), Zobrist (2B), Reddick (RF), Butler (DH), Davis (1B), Vogt (C), Lawrie (3B), Semien (SS) and Fuld (LF). Versus lefties, the A's could send out a line-up of Crisp (DH), Gentry (CF), Zobrist (RF), Butler (1B), Lawrie (3B), Semien (SS), Josh Phegley (C), Mark Canha (LF), Eric Sogard (2B). In that situation, versus left-handers, only Sogard would be a left-handed hitter. The A's could keep Zobrist at second versus lefties and let Reddick be the only lefty in the line-up, as well.
Clippard's addition to the A's returns Oakland's bullpen depth to where it was at the end of last season, when Gregerson was still with the team. If healthy, the A's should have one of the better bullpens in the American League once again. The A's have a good balance of right-handers and left-handers on their projected pitching staff, something that will be key in an AL West division that is replete with sluggers on both sides of the plate.
From the Nationals' perspective, they are trading away one season of above-average relief pitching for three years of team control on a big league middle infielder with a strong track record of performance. Escobar figures to settle in at second base for Washington next season and then could move to shortstop in 2016 if Nationals' starter Ian Desmond leaves via free agency. The Nationals could also trade Desmond this off-season rather than keep him and let him walk next year.