Feb 14, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Tyler Clippard was prepared to go to arbitration with the Nationals but was much happier Monday when the two sides managed to work out a $5.875 million contract and avoid next week’s hearing altogether.
“It was stressing me out,” the reliever said. “I didn’t even think I could stress out over stuff, and I was stressing out over it. I’m just glad it got resolved and both sides are happy with how everything went down. Now we can just focus on playing the game, and that’s all I care about.”
Clippard is entering his third of four seasons of arbitration eligibility — he qualified as a “Super 2″ player in 2012 — and for awhile it appeared he might be headed to a formal hearing when he and the Nationals found themselves nearly $2 million apart.
Ultimately, he settled for a salary figure well above the midpoint of the two competing offers and a nice raise from his $4 million salary of last season. He does face one more winter of this process before he can become a free agent, though the right-hander suggested the topic of a multi-year extension has been broached.
“During those types of situations, you try to feel out all the different scenarios so everyone can feel happy,” he said. “Those discussions, they happened. I wasn’t on the phone. It was my agent and them, and whether or not there was some validity to that … we were just trying to get a deal done that both sides were happy with.”
Clippard comes to his seventh spring training with the Nationals as established as ever, one of the most consistent and reliable relievers in baseball. He has come a long way from his early days with the Yankees, where he once was a starting prospect before getting traded to Washington in Dec. 2007 for obscure reliever Jonathan Albaladejo.
Clippard hasn’t thought of himself as a Yankee in quite some time, but he has maintained a relationship with at least prominent former teammate from the Bronx: Derek Jeter, who this week announced he will retire at season’s end. The two work out in the same Tampa facility during the offseason.
“I’ve gotten to know him there, and I’ve played with him, too,” Clippard said. “So I’ve seen both sides of him. He’s unwavering, never changes. Great guy. He’ll talk to anybody without hesitation. And for a guy who is as famous as he is, and is as big of a name as he is, to be as down to earth and humble and receiving of all types of people, it’s cool to watch. I’m never going to be on his level, but to emulate some of the things that he does in his life, I would like to try to do.”
Clippard won’t ever match Jeter’s legacy, but he does have the opportunity to brag to his workout pal about the one and only time they’ve encountered each other on the field.
Jeter stepped to the plate to face Clippard on June 16, 2012 at Nationals Park, in the ninth inning of a 3-3 game, with one out and the go-ahead runner on second base. Clippard recalls every ensuing detail…
“I fell behind him 2-0, and I threw a changeup, and I thought the umpire called it a ball, but he called it a strike,” he said.” So in my mind, it was 3-0, and the catcher called [another] changeup. And I’m like: ‘OK. Jeter. I mean, why not?’ So I threw a 3-0 changeup, and I think it was a called strike. And I’m like: ‘OK. 3-1.’ And I threw a fastball a little up in the zone, and he swung and missed at it. And he started walking back to the dugout, and I’m like: ‘I struck him out! What the heck happened there?'”
Clippard, still not entirely sure how he had the count screwed up in his head, mentioned the at-bat to Jeter that winter when they were working out in Tampa.
“I don’t think he even remembered it,” he said with a laugh. “So that’s how significant it was for him.”
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