Over the coming months one of the goals I’m hoping to accomplish here at DoD is to take a look back at the trades that have been made by the Washington organization over the years. Ultimately we’ll also take a look at what impact those deals have had on the team, in particular how they’ve shaped the current roster.
By my count, thanks to MLBTR’s transaction tracker tool, there have been 11 trades completed since the Nationals franchise came into existence. Only one of those was completed by previous GM Jim Bowden, so let’s start there.
After the 2007 season, the New York Yankees were facing a number of questions with regards to their bullpen for the upcoming season. They were actively trying to resign free agent Luis Vizcaino (who ultimately signed with Colorado) and despite expectations to the contrary, had decided not to entertain trade offers for Kyle Farnsworth (who ultimately was traded to Detroit the following July). The pair had been highly used the previous season and the organization knew that it needed to add additional depth in the bullpen that offseason.
Meanwhile, the team had seen the MLB Debut earlier that season from a then 21 year old pitching prospect named Tyler Clippard. The former 2003 Draftee (9th round) made his first of six starts for the Yankees on May 20th – a 6-2 victory over the Mets at Shea Stadium. Clippard pitched 6.0 innings to earn the win, allowing one run (a 2nd inning solo home run by David Wright) on three hits while walking 3 and striking out 6. He even got a hit himself – a 6th inning double off of Scott Schoeneweis. Clippard would pitch 27.0 total innings in the Majors that year, he was sent back to the minors mid-June, and finished with a 3-1 record, 6.33 ERA, and 6.0 K/9.
Clippard had been putting up respectable numbers in his minor league career prior to the 2007 season, though he was never considered one of the elite prospects in the game. Yet, despite the relatively solid debut performance it was no surprise the Yankees were willing to discuss including him in a potential trade that offseason. However, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch alluded to at the time of the trade, it was expected that Clippard would be part of something much bigger.
On December 4, 2007 news leaked from the first day of the annual Winter Meetings – as initially neither team would confirm the deal until physicals had been taken – that the Yankees and Nationals had agreed to the parameters of a trade.
The Nationals would receive Clippard.
The Yankees would receive relief pitcher Jonathan Albaladejo.
Albaladejo had originally been drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 (19th round). Once highly regarded within the Pirates farm system, the hard thrower’s career seemed to stall once he reached High-A. After spending both the 2004 and 2005 seasons at the level he was ultimately moved to the bullpen in an effort to take advantage of his live arm. In 2006 he reached Double-A, but mixed results on the mound led to the Pirates releasing him the following April. Washington would sign him to a minor league contract a few days later.
Like Clippard, Albaladejo had made his MLB Debut during that 2007 season. That September the then 25 year old made 14 appearances out of the Nationals bullpen. In 14.1 innings of work he allowed 3 runs (1.88 ERA) on 7 hits. He also struck out 12 while walking only 2.
Considering his live arm, there was reason to believe that Albaladejo was ready to break out into a serviceable reliever and the Yankees were hoping he’d be a cost affordable and valuable option for them, which is why they were willing to part with a prospect such as Clippard. He was already being projected at the time of the deal as a part of the team’s bullpen at the onset of the 2008 season.
Over the next three seasons Albaladejo would share his time between New York and the Yankee’s Triple-A affiliate. His time in New York came with largely mixed results – 49 appearances, 59.1 innings, 6-3 record, 4.70 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 4.6 BB/9. His time in the minor leagues, however, saw more success. In particular was the 2010 season in which he set an International League record with 43 saves.
His lack of Major League success, however, was ultimately not what the Yankees were bargaining for when they agreed to this trade. After the 2010 season the reliever requested his release from the team in order to pursue a career playing professionally in Japan. He signed that winter with the Yomiuri Giants.
After coming to the Nationals amid expectations that he could potentially challenge for a rotation spot that next Spring Training, Clippard would find himself spending the bulk of the 2008 season in Triple-A. He did make two MLB starts – going 1-1 with a 4.35 ERA in 10.1 innings – but largely saw poor results in his first year with a new organization. In 27 starts he pitched a total of 143.0 innings. He finished the season with a 6-13 record and 4.66 ERA – not exactly the production the Nationals hoped they were getting.
The organization decided that offseason to convert Clippard into a relief pitcher the coming season. That is when something changed for Clippard. In 24 appearances out of the Triple-A bullpen at the start of the 2009 season he threw a total of 39.0 innings. He was 4-1 with a 0.92 ERA and had regained his strikeout tendencies.
It was enough to earn a callup to Washington where he has remained since. In 150 appearances since that callup he’s thrown 179.1 innings with a 14-8 record, 2.46 ERA, and 10.8 K/9. This past season also saw Clippard named to his first All Star Game.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately it seems safe to say that the Nationals got the better of this deal, perhaps only by luck. The decision to transition Clippard into a reliever greatly shifted the trajectory of his career and has allowed him to develop into the pitcher the Nationals rely upon today. Had his development continued as a starter it is possible that Clippard could be out of the game altogether today.
Instead, he faces arbitration for the first time (as a Super-Two) and will remain under team control for the next four seasons. Another season or two like the ones we’ve seen from Clippard could put him into a pricey category for relievers as his own free agency approaches. Perhaps the Yankees will then have a chance to reacquire one that got away.
In the end, we’re happy to have Clippard on the Nationals. Having a strong bullpen is vital in today’s game. Clippard has become a big part of that developing bullpen and will continue to play an important role in the seasons to come.