LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Nationals have been quiet during Major League Baseball’s winter meetings. Their big splash last week was the acquisition of pitcher Doug Fister.
But they finally made a move to bolster the bullpen on Wednesday with a trade for 6-foot-6 left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins. The deal with Oakland sent the organization’s minor-league player of the year, Billy Burns to the Athletics. It is the seventh trade between the two teams since 2010, including the one for starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez after the 2011 season.
Blevins, 30, has a career .224 batting average against when facing lefties. He had a 3.15 ERA last season and is under team control for two more seasons. That helps ease any financial concerns in a group that includes closer Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. The latter two are due arbitration raises this winter and will combine to make close to $10 million, if not more. Blevins will earn a raise, too, but that is likely to fall well short of $2 million.
Washington chose not to have a left-handed specialist on the roster to start last season, a decision general manager Mike Rizzo admitted was a mistake.
“As we went through these meetings and got a feel for the acquisition cost for the free agent left handers, we decided to focus more in on the trade options,” Rizzo said.
Blevins, according to Rizzo, had the best mix of talent, role and cost effectiveness. His reverse split vs. lefty and righty batters last season doesn’t concern the organization. In fact, it kind of helps because it shows he can get batters out from both sides. Blevins can get out the tough lefty batters in the NL East out, the Nats believe, with a fastball from 89-to-92 with a big breaking ball and a change-up. He changes speeds well, too, Rizzo said.
Burns, 24, is a speedy outfielder and a force with the glove. He was a 32nd round pick in 2011 out of Mercer and developing into a switch hitter. Burns stole 74 bases between Single-A Potomac and Double-A last season. Washington’s 40-man roster is currently full with the addition of Blevins. But how his bat will play at the higher levels is in question. Rizzo noted that, again, the team traded from depth with outfield prospects like Brian Goodwin and Michael Taylor, among others, in the mix at that spot.
Rizzo did say that despite those seven trades in three years between the two teams, his relationship with A’s general manager Billy Beane is overstated.
“We kind of speak the same language as far as how we approach trades,” Rizzo said. “We’re very up front and I think fairly decisive. When we see a match we can usually go and make a deal.”
Rizzo said the Nats had three or four trade opportunities this week, touched base with just about every left-handed free agent and made one offer to an unnamed free agent.