The Oakland A's spent the first part of their off-season adding players, but the past two days they have traded away two members of their AL West division title teams for players that aren't necessarily expected to be on their 2014 Opening Day roster.
On Tuesday, the A's traded left-hander Brett Anderson to the Colorado Rockies for left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz and right-handed pitcher Chris Jensen. Pomeranz is on the 40-man roster, but he has option years remaining and could start next season in the Triple-A Sacramento rotation. Jensen, who is not a 40-man roster player, spent last season at High-A and is expected to start 2014 with Double-A Midland.
On Wednesday, the A's traded left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins to the Washington Nationals for outfielder Billy Burns. Burns, like Jensen, was drafted in 2011. Burns split the 2013 season between High-A and Double-A.
Blevins made his major-league debut with the A's in 2007, just months after the A's acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in the deal that sent Jason Kendall to Chicago. Blevins was the longest-tenured member of the A's pitching staff and one of the team's most reliable members of the bullpen for the past five seasons. In 267 innings for the A's, Blevins posted a 3.30 ERA and a 2.52 K/BB. In 2013, Blevins had a 3.15 ERA and a 3.06 K/BB in 60 innings.
Ironically, the Nationals needed Blevins because of two deals they made earlier in the off-season, one directly involving the A's and the other tangentially involving Oakland. The first was just before Thanksgiving when the Nationals traded left-handed reliever Fernando Abad to Oakland for minor league prospect John Wooten. Abad is now one of the leading candidates to take over for Blevins in the A's left-handed middle relief role. The other deal was with the Detroit Tigers and it involved the Nationals trading former A's prospect Ian Krol to Detroit along with two other players for right-hander Doug Fister. Krol was the Nationals' primary left-handed middle reliever for the second half of last season.
The A's will have several options to replace Blevins, although none have the track record that Blevins brings with him to Washington. Abad is a strong candidate given how well he pitched for the Nationals last season (3.35 ERA in 37.2 innings). The native of the Dominican Republic is out of options, so the A's will need to expose him to waivers if they don't keep him on their 25-man roster during the regular season.
Another candidate is Pedro Figueroa, who is also out of options. The hard-throwing left-hander had a down season in 2013 with Sacramento and made only five appearances for the A's, but he has one of the most dynamic fastball-slider combinations in the A's system.
The A's could also look at using the newly acquired Pomeranz as a reliever. Pomeranz has mostly been a starter during his career, but he pitched well in a handful of relief appearances down-the-stretch for Colorado last season. Like Abad and Figueroa, Pomeranz throws hard.
Burns, the player acquired for Blevins, was the Nationals' 2013 minor league player of the year. He has an unusual profile in that he is an outfielder with no gap power to speak of. In 444 at-bats last season, Burns had only 21 extra-base hits and no homeruns.
What Burns can do is run, and he uses his speed as a weapon both at the plate and on the bases. Utilizing a slash-and-dash approach from both sides of the plate, Burns hit .315 last season. He hit more than 55% of the balls he put in play on the ground last year, using his speed to beat out infield hits. Once on the bases, Burns tortured minor league catchers, stealing 74 bases in 81 chances. He split the season between High-A Potomac (Carolina League) and Double-A Harrisburg (Eastern League).
Burns also has a good eye at the plate, walking 72 times against 54 strike-outs in 121 games last season. His OBP was .425. Burns was a senior sign and a 32nd-round draft selection in 2011 out of Mercer. He will be 24 for most of next season.
Burns will need to show more gap power than he does right now to make it in the big leagues, as more skilled defenders will be able to crowd him and keep him from beating out infield hits or blooping in outfield hits unless he can keep defenders honest. Burns has played left and center field in the Nationals' chain. He has a chance to start next season in Triple-A, although he played only 30 games in Double-A last season, so the A's could send him to Midland to get more at-bats at that level.
If the A's don't make any other moves before tomorrow, they will have one spot on their 40-man roster available for the Rule 5 draft, should they choose to select a player.