Championship potential drew Clippard to D-backs

Posted at 4:38 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 18:38:37-05

Reliever Tyler Clippard says that Arizona's potential to contend for a title was a big reason he signed with the Diamondbacks.

"They've proven this offseason that they're taking the steps in the direction of becoming a championship organization," Clippard said in a conference call on Tuesday, "which was something that was very high on my radar as far as the teams that I wanted to be with."

The right-hander, who turns 31 on Sunday, said he wanted "to be pretty sure on my end I was going to be with a really good team, and Arizona definitely is that."

The Diamondbacks signed Clippard to a two-year, $12.25 million contract, a move intended to add proven experience to the bullpen.

Arizona was one of baseball's top offensive teams last season but pitching was a problem. The Diamondbacks addressed that in a big way by signing one of the game's best, Zack Greinke, to a six-year, $206 million deal, and trading for starter Shelby Miller from Atlanta.

Clippard joins a bullpen that's now fairly set with closer Brad Ziegler and relievers Daniel Hudson, Andrew Chafin, Randall Delgado and Josh Collmenter already pretty much assured spots on the roster. That leaves one, possibly two, bullpen slots open for competition this spring.

Clippard has been a setup man most of his career, including last season with the NL champion New York Mets after joining them in midseason. But he knows that role, which was held by the hard-throwing Hudson last season, won't necessarily be his in Arizona.

"At this point in my career I want to contribute on any level that the team needs me to contribute," he said, adding that it takes more than one or two pitchers to make a great bullpen.

Clippard said he's "pretty much done everything you can do in a bullpen" in his nine-year major league career.

"I mean, I started out as a long reliever," he said, "worked my way toward the back end of the bullpen the last three or four years, have pitched in the eighth-, ninth-inning roles. But I've pitched in the sixth, I've pitched in the seventh, I've pitched in the fourth, I've done it all."

Clippard has a 42-29 career record with a 2.88 ERA, with 612 strikeouts in 562 innings. He was an All-Star with the Washington Nationals in 2011 and 2014.

The Mets acquired Clippard from Oakland for minor league pitcher Casey Meisner last July.

Clippard had a terrific start in his time with the Mets but faded late in the season. He had a 6.14 ERA in September and allowed five runs in 6 2-3 innings in the postseason.

Arizona general manager Dave Stewart said he felt Clippard was overused, something he said won't happen this season because of the Diamondbacks' bullpen depth.

Clippard acknowledged it was a long season.

"You look at the calendar and you're like, `Wow, I've played a full season,"' he said. "I've played a full season. I started in winter, then spring, summer and now it's winter again. This is crazy. I've pretty much played year-round."

Despite his late struggles, Clippard was 5-4 with a 2.92 ERA last year with the Athletics and Mets, holding batters to a .186 average, 10th-best in the majors. He was even better with runners in scoring position at .133.

Clippard is the only pitcher to appear in at least 69 big league games each of the last six seasons. He leads all relievers in that span with 34 wins, 440 games and 464 1/3 innings.

He attributed that durability to offseason conditioning that developed strength and flexibility.

"You're essentially in maintenance mode the whole entire season," he said, "trying not to lose what you gained in the offseason."

Clippard said he expected to sign sooner but it was a "slow-moving" free agent market.

"But once the relationship was established between my representatives and Arizona, he said, "the talks definitely progressed quickly. ... I felt like from a bullpen standpoint, it was a great fit."