In second deal in as many days, Oakland sends lefty reliever to Washington
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The upper reaches of their organization lacking in premier talent, the A's used a piece of their bullpen depth to get some on Wednesday afternoon, trading for speedy outfielder Billy Burns from the Nationals in exchange for lefty Jerry Blevins.
Prospect acquired by Athletics
Billy Burns, OF: Burns went from a 32nd-round pick from Mercer in 2011 to the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year in 2013. The 24-year-old center fielder batted .315/.425/.383 between Class A Advanced Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg this season, ranking third in the Minors with 74 steals (in 81 attempts) and ninth in on-base percentage. Burns' game is built almost entirely around his top-of-the-scale speed. He's a huge basestealing threat and covers a lot of ground in center field, though he offers zero power and has a well below-average arm. If he can continue to get on base as much as he has in his first three pro seasons (.421 OBP), he'll have a chance to become a big league regular.
Make that two trades in as many days for the A's, who swung a deal for hurlers Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen while giving up Brett Anderson to the Rockies on Tuesday, and five trades in the past 10 days. Moreover, this marks the seventh deal between the A's and Nationals in the last three years.
"We were obviously dealing from a position of strength from the bullpen," said assistant general manager David Forst. "We made a number of additions recently, and there had been a handful of teams asking us about Jerry, and we knew it was probably a good opportunity to add to a part of the Minor League system that wasn't as deep."
Burns (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) is a true center fielder and fills the void left by Michael Choice, whose power bat was shipped to Texas in last week's trade for Craig Gentry. Burns won't hit any home runs -- he has one in 949 Minor League at-bats -- and the A's don't expect that from him. But he brings great defense and an abundance of speed.
Burns, 24, was named the Nationals' Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, after batting .315 with a .425 on-base percentage in 121 games between Class A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. Perhaps most impressive were his 74 stolen bases in 81 tries. He has 125 of them over three professional seasons and has been caught just 17 times.
"We like Billy Burns a lot," Forst said. "We talked to Washington about him before, and he fits very well for us. He's one of the best runners in the Minor Leagues, from both a speed and stolen-base standpoint."
Shortly after being drafted in the 32nd round by Washington out of Mercer University in 2011, Burns diversified his game by becoming a switch-hitter. It's rare to see such a transition at the professional level, but the Nationals wanted to get him that extra step from the left side.
The only other player Forst knows who successfully did this? Billy Beane -- though the A's general manager ditched the left side when he reached the Majors.
Burns hit .313/.436/.422 from the right side last season, faring almost as well as a left-handed hitter with a .312/.418/.383 slash line.
He has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio each season, showing great zone discipline this year with 72 walks next to 54 strikeouts in 540 plate appearances. He'll be in big league camp with the A's -- where he'll work with Hall of Fame speedster Rickey Henderson -- and is likely to start 2014 at Double-A Midland, though the A's see him riding the fast track to the Majors.
Blevins was the A's longest-tenured pitcher, having just completed his seventh season in Oakland, going 5-0 with a 3.15 ERA and a .218 opponents' average in a career-high 67 games. His 281 career appearances with the A's are tied for sixth most in Oakland history.
The always-engaging southpaw served as the club's player representative each of the past 2 1/2 seasons and was very involved in the local community, making Wednesday's news bittersweet for all parties involved.
"Jerry's been great," Forst said. "One of the best guys we've had. He performed really well in critical roles the past couple of years. Not an easy move to make, but it made sense for us."
"I'll miss Oakland," Blevins said by phone. "It's the only place I've known in the big leagues, and the fans have been so great to me. It'll be a sad moment when I leave, but I'm excited for the opportunity.
"You know, trade rumors are just that, and I've always gone the way of ignoring all of the rumor talk and waiting on facts, so it was definitely a surprise for me."
With Blevins on his way to join familiar face Gio Gonzalez in Washington, the A's are still equipped with a stacked bullpen. Left-hander Fernando Abad, also acquired from the Nationals this winter, appears to be the front-runner to fill Blevins' role. Pedro Figueroa, who is out of options, is also a possibility to help a bullpen that includes newcomers Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson and holdovers Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Dan Otero and Jesse Chavez.
Pomeranz has relief experience, too, but the A's want to give him an opportunity to earn a rotation spot, even with the loss of Blevins.
"[Pomeranz] still comes in as a starter, but he does have the ability to relieve in the big leagues," Forst said, "and that's certainly a nice option to have in our pocket."
Forst and Co. now turn their attention to Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, which marks the end of the Winter Meetings. The A's, though equipped with an open spot on their 40-man roster, aren't expected to take part in the Major League portion but are typically active in the Minor League rounds.