The Washington Nationals Acquire Sean Doolittle & Ryan Madson from Oakland

After watching his bullpen implode yet another time Saturday evening, Sunday General Manager Mike Rizzo pulled the trigger on a deal with Oakland, acquiring LHP Sean Doolittle and RHP Ryan Madson for RHP Blake Treinen, LHP Jesus Luzardo and 3B Sheldon Neuse.  In related news, the Nationals placed RHP Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list to create room on the 40-man roster for the new relievers.

Drafted by Oakland 41st overall in 2007 from the University of Virginia, the almost 31-year-old Sean Doolittle has been a key component of the Athletics’ bullpen for the past six years, posting a career 3.09 ERA and a 10.7 K/9 rate against a 1.7 BB/9 over 253 career innings.  This year Doolittle is having another solid campaign with a 3.38 ERA and 31 strikeouts against only 12 hits and 2 walks allowed in 21.1 innings pitched.  In addition, he has accumulated 3 saves this season and 36 for his career, giving him experience as a closer.

Doolittle features a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider, along with the occasional splitter and changeup.  The biggest knock on Doolittle has been his rather extensive injury history, especially to his shoulder, which limited him to only 52.2 innings pitched in 2015 and 2016.  Furthermore, his HR/9 rate has jumped the past two seasons (1.4 HR/9 in 2016, 1.3 HR/9 this year), which is a cause for some concern.  Nonetheless, Doolittle is a devastating lefty reliever signed to a team friendly contract, earning approximately $1 million more this season, plus $4.35 million in 2018 and club options for $6 million in 2019 and $6.5 million for 2020.

Additionally, Washington receives almost 37-year-old right-handed reliever Ryan Madson, who most Nationals’ fans will remember from his days in Philadelphia.  Madson is in the midst of yet another solid season in 2017, providing Oakland with a 2.06 ERA in 39.1 innings, allowing only 25 hits and 6 walks against 39 strikeouts.  For his 12-year career, Madson has a 3.40 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, and a 7.8 K/9 ratio against only 2.6 BB/9.  In addition he has a solid 0.8 HR/9 career rate and has notched 86 total saves.  Madson utilizes a mid-90s sinker and 4-seam fastball, along with a changeup and curveball, to rarely walk hitters or allow home runs, while missing bats as well.  Signed through 2018, Madson is earning $7.667 million this season and next season.

In exchange for these two pieces, Washington was forced to part with prospects Luzardo and Neuse, along with bullpen stalwart Blake Treinen, a pitcher who began the season as the team’s closer before subpar performance caused a demotion.  After three seasons of quality numbers, Treinen has been rotten this season, posting a 5.73 ERA over 37.2 innings, allowing 48 hits and 13 walks against 32 strikeouts.  The 29-year-old Treinen is blessed with one of the best sinkers in baseball, averaging 97mph, along with a slider and the occasional changeup.  Unfortunately, his sinker has such impressive movement, it often floats outside the strike zone, giving him below-average command.  Treinen is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and Oakland will attempt to rebuild his value in their pitcher-friendly home ballpark.

Considered a potential 1st round pick entering the spring, an unfortunate Tommy John surgery knocked Jesus Luzardo down to the 3rd Round in 2016, where Washington happily selected him.  Prior to surgery, Luzardo possessed a mature 4-pitch arsenal, highlighted by a low-90s fastball and a quality changeup.  He has recently returned to action in the Gulf Coast League, with scouts buzzing about his fastball now reaching 96-98mph, along with an improved slider.  Almost 20-years-old, Luzardo is raw and Oakland will need to be cautious developing him, but he is an intriguing lottery ticket for the Athletics.  He has both injury and development risk in his profile, but Luzardo has a potential ceiling as a #3 starter if everything comes together.

Drafted by Washington in the 2nd round, 58th overall in 2016, Sheldon Neuse has flourished in 2017 for Hagerstown, hitting .291/.349/.469 with 9 home runs.  Neuse is blessed with a plus or better arm, fringe-average speed and decent hands – this allows him to profile as an above-average future defender at the hot corner.  Offensively Neuse has attempted to shorten his swing this year to solid results, giving him the potential to be an average hitter with slightly above-average power.  There is risk involved in his profile, specifically questions on his hit tool and distance from the majors, but Neuse has the ceiling of an average to above-average 2-way third baseman.

If you wish to read more on Neuse, here is a link to my scouting report -> http://natsgm.com/2017/06/19/scouting-sheldon-neuse/

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I believe this to be a “win-win” trade for both Oakland and Washington.  The rebuilding Athletics did well to clear $12+ million in future payroll while acquiring an intriguing change of scenery reliever (Treinen), a potentially league-average third baseman (Neuse) and a lottery ticket with significant prospect helium (Luzardo).  The combination of age and injury risk with both Doolittle and Madson kept them from receiving one of Washington’s prized prospects but this still must be considered a successful return for Oakland.

On the other hand, Washington must be pleased as well, as they receive two lethal relievers both under contract through next season.  And the Nationals were not forced to part with a top prospect or significant prospect depth, leaving them in prime position to make another trade.  Without question neither pitcher is the dominant closer every team covets, and ideally Doolittle and Madson would form a lethal duo in the 7th and 8th innings ahead of a monster closer.  However, they should form a potent combination in the 8th and 9th innings based on matchups, while putting other relievers like Joe Blanton, Oliver Perez and Enny Romero in more appropriate, lower-leverage situations.

Overall Washington is taking on plenty of future payroll and injury risk with both pitchers, issues that cannot be ignored.  Nonetheless, the Nationals’ front office should be commended for significantly improving the team’s biggest weakness without mortgaging their future.  I fully expect Treinen to rebound in Oakland and I am a big fan of both Neuse and Luzardo, but this was an offer Washington could not refuse.

NatsGM Grade ->    B / B+

THE NatsGM Show #105 – Guest Pete Kerzel

THE NatsGM Show Episode #105 is now available and we proudly welcome from MASNSports.com, Pete Kerzel!

Our conversation begins with Pete and I reflecting on the first half of the season for the Washington Nationals and the outstanding current seasons from Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Max Scherzer.  Next we turn our attention to some weaknesses on  this roster, specifically the bullpen and the back of the rotation, plus we look ahead to the MLB trade deadline.  Finally we play a quick game of “Rapid Fire” where Pete shares his favorite National player to interview and his favorite memory with the franchise.

Thank you to Pete for joining me.  Please consider Rating, Reviewing & Subscribing to THE NatsGM Show on iTunes – Thanks for listening!

Evaluating Blake Perkins

Blake Perkins      CF           Hagerstown Suns

Future Grades     Hit (50-) / Power (30+) / Run (60) / Defense (60) / Arm (50+)

Drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 2nd round (69th overall) in 2015 from an Arizona high school, Perkins agreed to an $800,000 signing bonus.  Born in September 1996, Perkins is a switch-hitting, right-handed throwing center fielder.  Perkins is a lean 6-1 165lbs who projects to add both strength and muscle mass as he matures.  An impressive athlete, Perkins has plus speed, consistently running 4.06-4.11 seconds home to first from the left side.  Finally, he also seemingly possesses quality makeup, consistently hustling, cheering his teammates and often with a smile on his face.

In the field Perkins appears to be born to play center field, as he utilizes his speed and lengthy strides to effortless track the baseball.  Perkins shows solid instincts in the outfield and takes quality routes to the baseball.  Perhaps the only knock is his current arm strength, which flashes more fringe-average to average at present.  I expect this to improve in future seasons as he adds strength.  As with any 20-year-old he needs additional game experience, but Perkins profiles as a plus defender in center field.

Offensively Perkins is a natural right-handed hitter who committed to switch-hitting full-time as a professional.  The ball carries well off his bat and he will show some eye-raising pull power in batting practice.  Perkins has better than average bat speed and recognizes spin fairly well for this level.  His swing, both lefty and righty, is longer than it should be for a table setter and will need to be reduced in order to make more contact.  In addition, his balance at the plate can waver and he does not always stay balanced through his swing.  Pure speculation, but I wonder if his lack of present strength contributes to these flaws.  I envision Perkins needing another 1,000+ minor league at-bats to refine his swing mechanics and approach, but I project a future fringe-average hitter who hits the occasional home run.

When drafted Perkins was known to have impressive physical tools but his baseball skills, particularly offensively, were raw and would need to be refined.  Through this lens, Perkins has developed quicker than expected, serving as Hagerstown’s leadoff hitter and center fielder two years after being selected.  Defensively he is a natural in center field and his offensive skills, particularly his left-handed swing, have blossomed more quickly than the organization could have anticipated.

Perkins is an intriguing prospect with the potential for three above-average tools in his defense, speed and throwing arm.  There are questions surrounding his offensive future and if he can make the necessary adjustments to make more contact and capitalize on his speed.  Plus, his distance from the majors is an obvious concern as well.  That said his defensive aptitude, speed and base stealing potential give him a floor as a 5th outfielder/ Quad-A player.  However, if his offensive skills continue to blossom, his ceiling is a 2nd division, defensive-first center fielder.  There is plenty of risk, but Perkins should be a coveted name during trade discussions this month.

THE Joshua Kusnick Experience #16 – #YouKnow

THE Joshua Kusnick Experience #16 is now available for download!  On this episode Josh covers a wide-range of topics, beginning with his experience during this past MLB Draft and his plans for the upcoming All-Star Break in Miami.  Next we discuss the Tim Tebow effect in Port St. Lucie where Josh lives, provides updates on several clients like Michael Brantley and then tangents into talking about sports and movie memorabilia.  Finally Josh talks about his favorite player of all time and the autograph he most covets for his collection.

Thanks to Josh for clearing some time during the season and thank you for downloading!