Nationals send Collin Balester to Tigers for Ryan Perry

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The Nationals made their first trade of the 2011 offseason on Friday evening, sending one of the organization’s longest-tenured players, right-hander Collin Balester, to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for right-hander Ryan Perry, a former first-round pick.

The trade, which is a swap of two right-handed relievers, gives the Nationals some roster flexibility in their bullpen. Balester served the Nationals mostly in a long relief role in a 2011 season in which he shuttled back and forth between Washington and Triple-A Syracuse and has no options remaining. Perry has one.

“It’s a little bit sad,” Balester said in a phone interview. “I’ve never been with another team in my life. It’s going to be like the first day of school going to camp with another team. It’s going to be weird being in the other dugout seeing all the guys, but it’s baseball. I’m embracing it.

“Everyone knows the Nats are going to be good and a team to reckon with. It’s exciting. I’m going to miss all those guys. It’s going to be a lot of fun being able to watch them.”

Perry was drafted by the Tigers 21st overall in 2008 out of the University of Arizona and has spent three years as a reliever for the reigning American League Central champions. In three major league seasons, the 24-year-old has a 4.07 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 161 1/3 innings, but struggled last year, posting a 5.35 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 37 innings. His best season for the Tigers was 2010 when he appeared in 60 games, including 24 “high-leverage” situations and earned 19 holds.

At just 24-years-old, the 6-foot-4 righty is considered to have the upside of a set-up reliever. His fastball is clocked between 94-98 mph and he also throws a power slider. He’s a ground-ball pitcher, too, with a 52.1 percent ground-ball rate, according to STATS, Inc., which is something the Nationals really like. He’s struck out 7.2 batters per nine innings over the course of his career. In 149 career appearances, Perry has allowed just 14 home runs but he’s known to struggle with consistency. In 2011, he averaged 5.1 walks per nine innings and has a career mark of 4.6.

Earlier this past week in Dallas at baseball’s winter meetings, Tigers manager Jim Leyland discussed that very subject with reporters, describing the talent Perry can show with one pitch but then an inability to duplicate it consistently. It’s that inability that has kept him from truly establishing himself as an elite late-inning reliever to this point.

If he can reach his potential, he’ll get an opportunity to compete for a mid-late-inning spot in the Nationals’ bullpen. But with Drew Storen set as the team’s closer and Tyler Clippard as his main set-up man, he’ll have some tough competition from Sean Burnett, Henry Rodriguez and Ryan Mattheus.

Balester, a 2004 fourth-round pick of the Montreal Expos, was one of the lone holdovers from the organization’s Montreal days. A lanky right-hander, Balester struggled as a starter for the Nationals but enjoyed success as a reliever the past two seasons. He was vital as a long reliever and emergency starter for the Nationals in the season’s final two months and it appears he’ll be given a chance to make the Tigers‘ major league roster in that role.

“Acquiring Collin Balester from the Nationals today adds another good arm to our organization,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a statement. “He has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen in the past, a role we are looking for him to fill for our club in 2012.”

“Ryan did not have a guaranteed spot on the club at this time,” Dombrowski later told MLB.com “But he also didn’t really fit this three-inning type of role. We felt Ryan could benefit from a change of scenery.”

“I’m willing to do anything to help the team win,” Balester said. “Anything they need me to do. Long man, multi-inning guy. I don’t think I’ll be closing too many games but I’ll do anything they really need me to do. I’m excited for the new teammates and a new city. I’ve heard great things and I’m just excited for the whole new adventure.”

This was already shaping up to be a big week for Balester as his wife, Ashley, is expecting the couple’s first child. Collin had left his phone at home while the two were out shopping for a Christmas tree when Ashley began receiving texts and phone calls from friends and family about the trade. In a way it represents something of a homecoming for Balester and his soon-to-be-growing family. Ashley is from Perrysburg, Ohio, a town just 45 minutes south of Detroit.

“It’s an exciting time,” Balester said. “[My wife’s family are] all Detroit fans. Growing up, you have those teams you want to play for in your mind, which for me was all California teams and West Coast teams and you get drafted and you enjoy wherever you go. But as you’re playing you see the cities you’d like to play in and Detroit was always one of them for me.”

His departure now leaves Ian Desmond, Roger Bernadina, Atahualpa Severino and Seth Bynum as the only remaining holdover players from the team’s days in Montreal.

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