Now this is a good old fashioned Winter Meetings rumor …
We know that the Chicago Cubs are considering at least a couple free agent options for the bullpen, including John Axford and Joba Chamberlain, but there’s no reason to think the Cubs wouldn’t also look into the trade market.
Enter the Washington Nationals and relievers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, each of whom appear to be perpetually on the trade market. Gordon Wittenmyer reports that the Cubs are “eyeing” Storen and Clippard, among others. The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore confirms Wittenmyer’s report, at least with respect to Storen. He adds that the Nationals could see James Russell and/or Nate Schierholtz as fits in return, though we’ll dig into whether that makes sense in a moment (also: do the Nats really need Schierholtz?). Kilgore cautions that the talks are very early, and of the “feeling things out” variety. Still, trade talks with specific names are trade talks with specific names, and Storen and Clippard are believed to have been available for a while now thanks to a well-developed internal bullpen plus the Rafael Soriano signing.
Once the Nationals’ closer, Storen was bumped to setup duties in 2012, and pitched exceedingly well in that role (2.37 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 3.00 K/BB). Last year, he had a down year by ERA (4.52), but his strikeout rate actually increased, and his FIP was a still nice 3.62. The problem was that he gave up more hits than he had in the past (career BABIP is .282, while last year was .319), left fewer runners on base (67.8% last year versus a 73.3% career mark), and gave up homers at a 9.9% HR/FB (career mark is 8.0%). His velocity was down slightly last year, but not markedly so. He’s an ideal bounce-back candidate, and I’m starting to see a pattern in the guys the Cubs target as relief options. Well-played, gentleman.
As for Clippard, he’s coming off of a great season in a long line of great seasons. On the opposite side of the spectrum from Storen, he appears to actually have been fairly lucky to achieve his 2.41 ERA (3.82 FIP). His BABIP against was a microscopic .170, so you can expect considerably regression there (though his mark has always been in the low .230 to .240 range – that’s what you get with extreme flyball pitchers). Scouting the numbers, you’d probably like Storen’s odds at a better 2014 than Clippard’s, but they both could be very good.
As for age/contract things, Storen is 26 with three arbitration years ahead of him, including 2014. Clippard is 28, and he’s got just two arb years left. Each player was a Super Two, so their going rate will be a bit higher than you might expect for guys in their respective spots (which is, no doubt, part of the reason the Nats would consider moving them). Storen made $2.5 million last year, while Clippard made $4 million. MLBTR projects Storen to make $3.6 million next year, while Clippard comes in at a hefty $6.2 million. Once again, the preferred target is Storen. The fact that he had a “down” year in 2013 makes him all the more attractive, when compared to Clippard, who had a “good” year.
So, what do you give up for one of these guys? Well, I’d think the price tag on Storen is going to be a good bit higher than Clippard, where his shorter control and higher salary weigh heavily. Would you give up a Russell or a Schierholtz for Storen? No questions asked, in my book. Both for Storen? I think that’s just a hypothetical, but it might be worth considering, depending on what the market for each player looks like separately. I’m not sure I’d part with either for Clippard straight up, primarily because I don’t see much surplus value there (top setup guys get, what, three-year, $15 million deals in free agency? Clippard might make that much in the next two years, alone).
Storen is probably worth a solid prospect or two (a 10 to 15 range guy, and a 15 to 30 guy? just spitballin’), if the Nats preferred to go that route. Clippard is probably worth a decent prospect, too, but I’ve talked myself out of seeing him as quite as enticing.
Each would have a legitimate shot to close for the Cubs next year, and each would improve the Cubs’ bullpen from day one.