Mets acquire Tyler Clippard from the Athletics

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After upgrading their lineup over the weekend with the additions of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, the Mets addressed the back-end of their bullpen tonight by acquiring reliever Tyler Clippard from the Athletics for prospect right-hander Casey Meisner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reports that Oakland is including $1 million in the deal, so the Mets will be responsible for around $2 million of Clippard’s remaining salary.

Clippard has functioned as Oakland’s primary closer this season, posting a 2.79 ERA and 38/21 K/BB ratio in 38 2/3 innings while going 17-for-21 in save chances. He’ll presumably move back into a set-up role in New York and has a chance to form a potent late-inning duo with closer Jeurys Familia. While Clippard’s walks are up a bit this season, he has been one of the game’s better relievers dating back to 2009. Bobby Parnell hasn’t shown his pre-Tommy John surgery form quite yet and Jenrry Mejia isn’t eligible to pitch in the postseason, so it’s a smart move for the Mets. It also helps to keep Clippard away from the first-place Nationals, who reportedly had interest in bringing him back.

Meisner, a third-round pick from 2013, owns a 2.89 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 over 35 starts and six relief appearances in the minors. The 20-year-old has split this season between Class A Savannah and High-A St. Lucie. He could be a useful piece down the road for Oakland, but the Mets still have plenty of prospect depth if they decide to pick up another bat in the coming days.

Nationals succeeded by spending money

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Throughout the playoffs, the Nationals have been cast as plucky underdogs fighting and scrapping their way into the World Series. It’s somewhat true: the Nats overcame a dreadful start to the regular season after losing their star outfielder in Bryce Harper, and were heavy underdogs in the NLDS against the Dodgers, who won 13 more games. But the Nationals are not David in a David vs. Goliath story. They’re closer to Goliath because they have flexed their payroll muscle to fill the roster with talented players.

The Nationals didn’t come close to matching the 13-year, $330 million contract the Phillies wound up agreeing to with Harper, instead offering a 10-year, $300 million deal of which about $100 million was deferred. Losing Harper has somewhat defined their 2019. But they did sign starter Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million contract, and they’re paying Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg $38.33 million and $37.4 million, respectively. As we saw in the NLCS, it was the starting rotation that carried them into the World Series.

Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, will not win the award again this year most likely, but he once again ranked among the game’s best pitchers. During the regular season, he posted a 2.92 ERA with 243 strikeouts across 172 1/3 innings. Strasburg led the league in wins with 18 and innings with 209 while authoring a 3.32 ERA with 251 strikeouts. Corbin continued to impress with a 3.25 ERA and 328 strikeouts in 202 innings. As a unit, the Nationals’ 3.53 ERA from starting pitchers ranked second-best in baseball behind the Dodgers. Sounds about right for a rotation collectively earning about $100 million.

We — the royal we — have been quick to point out when an uncommon strategy works, like the Cubs’ and Astros’ rebuilding strategies before they came in vogue or the Rays’ use of the “opener.” It’s only fair to point out that a time-tested strategy, spending money on good baseball players, also works. The Nationals’ current payroll of about $204.5 million is third-highest in baseball, according to USA TODAY.

In September, the Nationals’ NL East rival Phillies were reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal to have curtailed efforts to compete for a Wild Card because of a lack of certainty. The front office didn’t want to invest significant resources into grabbing a lowly Wild Card only to have to match up with the behemoth Dodgers in the NLDS. But that’s exactly what the Nationals did. The Nationals also swept the slumping Phillies in a five-game series September 23-26.

The Phillies aren’t alone. We’ve seen in the last few offseasons that teams have become loath to invest in free agents, particularly ones 30 and older. Even Scherzer took notice. Asked about the Nationals’ collective age, Scherzer said via The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd, “It just seems everybody wants younger and younger players. And everybody wants to forget about all the old guys. We see it in free agency, we’re not dumb. And the fact (is) we’re the oldest team and we won the National League.”

Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Josh Donaldson will highlight the upcoming free agent class. They could be joined by Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, and J.D. Martinez if they exercise the opt-out clauses in their contracts. In the cases of Cole and Rendon, at least two-thirds of the league should be actively pursuing them but if the past few years are any indication, the actual interest will be muted and they won’t end up signing until after the new year. Front offices have continued to blindly recite the phrase “aging curve” while pointing at the Rays in an effort to scale back payroll. The Nationals, meanwhile, are putting the “money” back in Moneyball and they might win a championship because of it.