Filling the need that had become their top priority at the winter meetings, the Nationals acquired left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins from frequent trade partner Oakland for speedy, switch-hitting outfielder Billy Burns, their reigning minor league player of the year.
Blevins, a 6-foot-6 29-year-old, posted a 3.15 ERA and 52 strikeouts over 60 innings last season. The Nationals needed a left-hander for their bullpen to neutralize the many left-handed hitting threats in the National League East, but Blevins actually had more success last season against right-handed hitters. Lefties hit .253 against him, but he held right-handed batters to a .189 average. In his career, though, Blevins has held lefties to a .224 average.
The Nationals had been in touch with many free agent relievers, including Scott Downs, Eric O’Flaherty, J.P. Howell and Boone Logan. But the Nationals had concerns they have already devoted too much money to their bullpen, with $14 million-per-year closer Rafael Soriano along with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, who will combine to make roughly $10 million in arbitration next year. Blevins, who can become a free agent after the 2015 season, figures to earn roughly $1.7 million in arbitration.
Blevins has played his entire career with Oakland, but has one personal connection with the Nationals: He was a college teammate of Nationals reliever Craig Stammen at Dayton.
In Burns, the Nationals lose an excellent defensive outfielder who stole 74 bases last year at Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg. After the Nationals drafted him in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft out of Mercer, he learned how to switch hit at the request of Nationals officials. His speed and increasing ability to make contact from the left side of the plate allowed him to post a .425 on-base percentage in 2013.
One scout compared Burns to former Cubs outfielder Tony Campana. “Hard to walk away from his speed, but he didn’t show much bat impact,” he said.
The Nationals could afford to part with Burns because of their strong minor league outfield depth, which includes Brian Goodwin, Eury Perez and Michael Taylor.
The Nationals also discussed A’s lefty reliever Sean Doolittle, but Oakland did not want to give him up, and so the Nationals settled for Blevins. It should not be a surprise that the Nationals and A’s managed to find a match. Since the end of the 2010 season, ,the Nationals and A’s have now made seven trades, the biggest of which sent Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals in December 2011. Earlier this winter, the Nationals dealt the A’s Fernando Abad for Class A outfielder John Wooten.