Perhaps Yunel Escobar was not going to be the panacea at shortstop we were led to believe he was. Yes a continuation of a double play partnership would have been neat, but then Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle added this wrinkle to what we knew about the Escobar-Zobrist trade:
#Athletics announce the Tyler Clippard acquisition. No money is changing hands in the deal, so #Nationals taking all of Escobar's salary.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) January 15, 2015
Rather than a boon for the A's, Escobar actually had negative trade value from the Rays standpoint, which was impressive for someone only earning $12.5 million the next two years (and a $1 million buyout of his 2017 option) in the current spending and available shortstop environment.
Actually, it's not quite correct to say negative trade value. For a team like the Rays, every dollar counts. It would probably be better to say the Rays thought it could spend that money (and the extra $1.5 million the A's sent to Tampa) more productively.
So now the A's had their Zorilla, but they were stuck with this shortstop they were not particularly interested in because, I would guess, they thought Marcus Semien was a perfectly adequate shortstop for quite a lot less money over the next few years. Meanwhile, the Nationals were reported by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal to be part of a three-team deal involving the Rays and the Mets that ultimately fell through.
The Escobar part of the deal was meh, to me, because even excusing his terrible defensive 2014, he was still supposed to regress in 2015 to an average-at-best defensive shortstop and a meh offensive player, and he was only going to be older in 2016 and 2017. To unload Escobar is a move to save money in 2016 and 2017, and so the A's should want to find the best deal possible, even if it means taking on a lot of salary right now.
Enter Tyler Clippard. Clippard is projected to earn $9.3 million at arbitration according to the Matt Swartz model, which is really a lot of money for a reliever. The reason Clippard is earning $9.3 million is quite different from why Jim Johnson is earning $10 million, however. Johnson pretty much got $10 million on the strength of having 122 saves heading into 2014 but only a 6.0 K/9 ratio, a 3.11 ERA, and a 3.55 FIP. Clippard, on the other hand, has just 34 saves, having mostly been used as an elite setup man in Washington to the tune of a 2.88 ERA, 3.64 FIP, and 10.0 K/9 ratio.
The knock on Johnson was always that he was a groundball pitcher that had gotten extremely fortunate thanks to the great defense behind him: multiple Gold Glove winner J.J. Hardy, third baseman Manny Machado, and other good fielders behind him. Clippard gets strikeouts with a 92 mph fastball, a cutter, a slider, and a changeup.
Clippard is a very good pitcher and pencils in as the elite right-handed setup man ahead of Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, and Jesse Chavez. If this is the last move for the A's, then the extra $4-5 million they are taking on is just money.