LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Nationals talked to every left-handed reliever on the open market. And they inquired about potential trades with three or four clubs.
In the end, Mike Rizzo decided a Jerry Blevins-for-Billy Burns swap with the Athletics made the most sense in multiple ways.
“This was the best option we could find with the combination of talent, role, cost,” Rizzo said Wednesday afternoon from his suite at the Dolphin Resort. “This was our best option.”
Blevins, a 30-year-old with a 3.30 ERA in parts of seven seasons with the A’s, wasn’t necessarily the best available left-handed reliever. But recognizing the price for free agents Eric O’Flaherty, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan was higher than he preferred, and recognizing a trade for a younger lefty like the Pirates’ Justin Wilson would have required a more significant return, Rizzo settled on Blevins as the best fit for his team.
And there’s plenty to like about him. Blevins allowed slightly more than one batter to reach base per inning over the last two seasons. He has been effective against both lefties (.224 batting average) and righties (.240 batting average) in his career. His projected $1.5 million salary makes him a relative bargain. He’s under team control for the next two years. And he was touted by teammates in Oakland as a clubhouse leader and respected bullpen member.
“A younger, controllable type of guy that we’d have more than a year, and at a price point that we felt like made sense for us,” Rizzo said.
Blevins (a teammate of Craig Stammen at the University of Dayton) fills an obvious need for the Nationals, who entered 2013 without a late-inning lefty reliever, and will be new manager Matt Williams’ first choice to face tough left-handed hitters. He won’t be used strictly as a specialist, though, and is expected to pitch full innings with regularity, Rizzo said.
The Nationals view Blevins’ unusual 2013 stats — he actually was more effective against right-handed batters — as a fluke.
“I think his career numbers show that he’s successful against lefties and righties,” Rizzo said. “Last year he had a little bit of a reverse split, but we feel comfortable that he can get left-handers and right-handers out.”
The Nationals did like another left-hander out of the Athletics’ bullpen, Sean Doolittle, but from previous conversations with Oakland GM Billy Beane, Rizzo understood the University of Virginia alum was not available.
This trade did represent yet another marriage between Rizzo and Beane. The Nationals and A’s now have consummated seven trades over the last three years, deals that included the likes of Josh Willingham, Henry Rodriguez, Michael Morse, Gio Gonzalez, Ian Krol, Fernando Abad, Kurt Suzuki (twice) and A.J. Cole (twice).
Is there any particular reason Rizzo and Beane have been able to complete so many deals with each other?
“I think the relationship part between me and Billy is a little overstated,” Rizzo said. “We kind of speak the same language as far as the way we approach trades. We’re both very upfront and fairly decisive. When we see a match, we usually go and make a deal. They scout our system extremely well. They know them very well. They’ve had the players we’ve been looking to acquire on quite a few occasions.”
The A’s scouted and liked Burns, a 24-year-old speedster Rizzo called “a scouting success story” after developing from a 32nd round draft pick in 2011 into the organization’s player of the year in 2013.
At the encouragement of the Nationals, Burns learned how to switch-hit once he became a professional and wound up hitting .315 with a .425 on-base percentage and 74 stolen bases this season between Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg.
At the same time, Burns was well down the organization’s depth chart and faced a tough road trying to leapfrog fellow outfield prospects Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor and Steven Souza.
“We traded from depth,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got a lot of depth in the outfield position with the emergence of Michael Taylor, Goodwin and Souza, that group of guys, and we felt that this was a position that we could afford to dip into and get the reliever we were looking for.”
The trade does have one other significant ramification: Blevins’ acquisition leaves the Nationals with a full 40-man roster. That would preclude them from selecting a player in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft.