Who will replace Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning?

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Apr 17, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher

Heath Bell

(13) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Option 3: Rely on depth, free agency…

Along with the team’s steady supply of veterans and youngsters, the Nationals also have a few players in their pitching depth that have a chance – albeit, a slim one – to take over for Clippard in the eighth inning.

Of course, the most obvious of these is reliever Heath Bell, whom the Nationals signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league Spring Training earlier this offseason.

Bell, a three-time All-Star who not long ago was one of the best closers in the game, has seen his career decline dramatically in recent years and will likely have to be dominant this spring to make the Opening Day bullpen.

Despite his recent struggles, Bell has had great success in the past and if he can somehow return to his dominant form he could become a strong candidate to take over the setup role.

The Nationals also have several players, such as Manny Delcarmen, Rafael Martin and Xavier Cedeno, who could be used in the eighth inning, but none of those players are likely to make the Opening Day bullpen.

Another route the Nationals could take to replace Clippard is free agency, though the options are limited and expensive. The one name that stands out right now is Francisco Rodriguez – a free agent represented by agent Scott Borras, who is no stranger to making surprise, big-money bullpen deals with the Nationals (Rafael Soriano, anyone?).

But Rodriguez, who earned 44 saves with the Brewers last offseason, will demand closer-type money that the Nationals probably aren’t willing to pay.