A couple of days before the season, the Nats traded reliever Jerry Blevins to the Mets for OF Matt den Dekker. It was a strange trade at the time, for multiple reasons. First, intra-division trades are rare unless one of the teams is in full rebuilding mode, which the 2015 Mets are certainly not. Second, Blevins was poised to play a valuable role in a Nationals bullpen still struggling to fill the hole left by Tyler Clippard’s departure to Oakland. Blevins struggled last season (4.87 ERA), but his splits were strong against lefties (40 strikeouts against 117 batters faced). With Blevins leaving, the Nats were forced to turn to the largely untested Xavier Cedeno and 38-year-old Matt Thornton.
With Jayson Werth and Denard Span hurt, it made sense for the Nats to target an outfielder. But Matt Williams never slated den Dekker for a starting role. He only appeared in four games while getting only two plate appearances. Even if den Dekker did start the first six games of the season, a reliever like Blevins is a pretty high price to pay. Besides, if the Nats needed a short-term solution, there were plenty of replacement-level options (like Reed Johnson) available.
Since the trade, Blevins has performed well in New York (5 batters faced, 0 baserunners, 3 strikeouts), while his replacement in DC, Cedeno, has struggled. Moreover, den Dekker was sent to AAA this morning, leaving many Nats scratching their heads, trying to figure out why Rizzo made this trade in the first place.
The best answer is that Rizzo trusts his scouting. There’s something about den Dekker they liked and they jumped at the opportunity to acquire him. Blevins, meanwhile, is one season away from free agency and likely would have departed for nothing this offseason. This trade entirely fits Mike Rizzo’s M.O., leveraging short-term assets for long term gain. The best comparison to the Blevins-den Dekker trade is the Michael Morse trade prior to the 2013. Morse could have played a valuable role on the 2013 team, but Rizzo opted to flip him for three long-term assets. One of those players (Blake Treinen) is currently a vital member of the Nats bullpen; one (A.J. Cole) is a top prospect in the Nats farm system; and one (Ian Krol) was traded for Doug Fister prior to last season. Rizzo is always playing the long game, trying to keep this franchise stocked with talent when their “window of contention” should otherwise be closing.
I realize this answer may be unsatisfying to many fans who rightfully realize Blevins can help this team right now. And perhaps these fans are right. When you’re contender, sometimes you have to sacrifice your future to cover up holes on the roster.
But the Nats trust their scouts, and their track record is strong. There was something they liked about Blake Treinen two years ago, and now he’s firing 98 mph sinkers as the Nats full-time set-up man.
It’s entirely fair to question Mike Rizzo’s moves as GM. But his track record and long-term focus make one week later the wrong time to do it.