After searching for almost two offseasons for a reliever to fill the hole on the left side of their bullpen, the Washington Nationals have finally found their man. Today, the team made a deal with frequent trading partner the Oakland Athletics, acquiring lefthanded reliever Jerry Blevins in exchange for minor league outfielder Billy Burns.
For much of last season, the Nationals lacked a strong lefthanded reliever — one with the ability to consistently retire lefty hitters — and now they’ve found one. Against Blevins, lefties have hit .224 with a .636 OPS. But the team was looking for more than just a LOOGY (lefty one out guy), a lefty who could only face other lefties; they believed that they already had internal options, including Xavier Cedeno, to fill the role of a lefty specialist. In Blevins, they got what they were looking for. Blevins is not the typical reliever in that he has four pitches — a sinker, slider, curveball, and changeup — that he throws with regularity. This makes him effective against both left and right; in fact, last year, his left/right splits were reversed, as he posted a .581 OPS against righties versus a .741 OPS against lefties.
Burns, the player the Nationals traded away, is exactly the type of player Billy Beane values highly. Although he has very little power, Burns displays an amazing batting eye, with a career minor league OBP of .421. Burns is also lightening fast (74 steals last year, and caught only 7 times), and plays a very strong center field. Though he was named Nationals’ Minor League Player of the Year last year, Burns was left off Baseball America’s Top 10 Nationals Prospects List, a reflection of how undervalued his tools are. Burns is a tough player to give up, especially in exchange for a reliever.
The move may have been motivated by cost. Between the $11 million owed Rafael Soriano next year and the $6 million Tyler Clippard is expected to earn through arbitration, the team is already spending heavily on the bullpen. The Nationals had a choice to make — either shell out the money for a free agent reliever, or trade for Blevins (who is under team control for the next two years and is projected to earn $1.5 million in arbitration) and be forced to part with a prospect. Obviously, they chose the latter.
With the move, the Nationals acquired a solid lefthanded reliever capable of facing more than one batter, thus filling one of the biggest holes on the roster. While the deal may turn sour if Burns gets to the majors and performs (a real possibility, despite the prognostications of many scouts), in the present, the Nationals get exactly what they had been searching for.