Tribe Adds Clippard to Spring Bullpen Battle
Bob Toth | On 20, Feb 2019
According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the Cleveland Indians and free agent reliever Tyler Clippard have come to terms on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training at the club’s Goodyear, Arizona, complex.
The Indians have not confirmed the signing at the time of this story. The contract, according to Heyman, would pay Clippard $1.75 million if on the Major League roster with another $1 million available in performance incentives.
Clippard, who turned 34 last Thursday, spent last season with Toronto while working through an up and down season for the Blue Jays. The right-hander is a two-time National League All-Star and a veteran of 12 big league seasons.
During the 2018 season, he made 72 relief appearances and his first start since 2008. He went 4-3 with a 3.67 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, seven saves, and 15 holds. His 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings marked his best single-season mark since 2010, and his 3.0 walks per nine innings were his lowest total since 2014. He struck out a batter in 53 of his 73 outings and he made 56 scoreless appearances. The home run did haunt him some, as he allowed a career-worst 13 blasts on the season. Eighteen of the 28 earned runs that he allowed on the season came spread over his one start and six of his relief trips (accounting for three of his six blown saves on year and two of his losses).
Clippard earned a spot in the Blue Jays bullpen after signing with the club on a minor league deal last offseason. He allowed three runs (all on solo homers) in 14 1/3 innings in his first 15 appearances, earning three wins. Command was, however, an issue in the first two months of his campaign, as he walked 15 in 27 innings over his first 28 games. As the season progressed, his strikeout rate climbed, and in the final four months of the schedule, he walked as many as he walked in April (8) alone.
The right-handed Clippard handled left-handers better last season, which fell in line with his career trends for the most part. He limited them to a .210/.252/.345 slash with 35 strikeouts and just six walks in 127 plate appearances. Just three of his 13 homers on the year were surrendered to left-handers. Right-handers had more success against him overall, hitting .234 with a .321 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging mark, as while he struck out 50 of the 158 same-siders that he faced, he walked 17 and gave up ten homers against them. As is normally the case, he struck out right-handed hitters at a higher rate than left-handed ones, but also walked them more frequently.
Clippard entered the pro game in 2003, when the New York Yankees selected him in the ninth round out of high school. He debuted early in the 2007 season, making six starts, but he was dealt that offseason to the Washington Nationals. He spent more than seven years in the Nationals organization, making two starts during the 2008 season before moving into the bullpen full-time. He appeared in a career-high 78 games during the 2010 season, posting an 11-8 record with a 3.07 ERA. He was named an All-Star for the first time the following season and ended the season with 38 holds and a career-best 1.83 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP.
He moved into the closer’s role for the Nationals in 2012, locking down 32 saves, and two seasons later he returned to the All-Star Game. After the season, he was traded to Oakland and was swapped to the New York Mets ahead of the 2015 trade deadline. He has traveled frequently since then, spending 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks before a return trip to the Yankees and 2017 with New York, Chicago White Sox, and Houston Astros.
Clippard is yet another veteran arm set to come to camp with Cleveland looking for a job in the open bullpen battle. After closer Brad Hand, nothing is for sure on a staff that includes the returning Tyler Olson, Dan Otero, Oliver Perez, Adam Cimber, Jon Edwards, Nick Goody, and Neil Ramirez; 40-man members Cody Anderson, Danny Salazar, and Ben Taylor; and offseason additions A.J. Cole, Justin Grimm, James Hoyt, Chih-Wei Hu, Brooks Pounders, Jefry Rodriguez, Alex Wilson, and Nick Wittgren, among others.
Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images