The Rays are among the teams considering a run at Tyler Clippard late in the offseason, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). As Topkin notes, Clippard was raised in Florida — he attended high school roughly 40 miles from Tropicana Field — and would also benefit from Florida’s lack of an income tax.
The lack of a market for Clippard has been surprising to many, although the right-hander certainly isn’t without red flags. His velocity has dropped each season since 2013, and he posted his lowest full-season strikeout rate in 2015 while also recording the third-worst full-season walk rate of his career. Clippard was also the game’s most extreme fly-ball pitcher last season; his 60.6 percent fly-ball rate was the highest among any pitcher that threw at least 20 innings, and it wasn’t particularly close. Teams may also be concerned about the huge workload on Clippard’s right arm; no reliever is within even 50 innings of the 464 1/3 innings that Clippard has tallied since the 2010 season.
Of course, that durability can also be perceived as a positive. Clippard has never been on the disabled list, and he’s made at least 72 appearances with at least 70 innings pitched in each of the past six seasons. Given the volatile nature of relief pitcher’s, Clippard’s consistent ability to take the mound — and pitch effectively, no less — is nothing short of remarkable. Dating back to that previously mentioned 2010 season, Clippard has a 2.67 ERA with 10.1 K/9 against 3.4 BB/9. He’s always been a fly-ball pitcher — though rarely to the extreme that he displayed in 2015 — but has managed to average less than a home run per nine innings (0.9 HR/9) in that stretch as well.
The question with which teams are faced, then, is whether or not the decline in Clippard’s K/BB numbers and velocity are due to that heavy workload or are elements of his game that can be corrected. Given the fact that he’s the last big-name relief arm left on the market, it would seem that there is indeed some level of trepidation surrounding him, but that could create the opportunity for a team to get something of a bargain rate on a player that has typically yielded high-quality results.
The Rays, in particular, could make sense as a landing spot for a reputable setup man, as the team has traded both Kevin Jepsen (to the Twins) and Jake McGee (to the Rockies) in the past six months or so, creating a potential late-inning opening. Clippard would theoretically join names like Danny Farquhar and Alex Colome as right-handed setup pieces serving as a bridge to closer Brad Boxberger.