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/
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+