The Athletics dealt right-hander Ryan Madson and left-hander Sean Doolittle to the Nationals for right-hander Blake Treinen, minor league lefty Jesus Luzardo and infielder Sheldon Neuse, per a team announcement. The deal was first rumored to be in the works on Saturday and was confirmed by the clubs on Sunday.
Madson and Doolittle will help round out the Nationals’ bullpen, which suffered from a collective 5.34 ERA and -0.9 fWAR through the first half of the season. Madson, in particular, has pitched to a stellar 2.06 ERA, complementing his airtight run prevention with a 1.4 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 through 39 1/3 innings. Doolittle holds a more modest 3.38 ERA on the year, but his 0.8 BB/9 and 13.1 SO/9 have been the hallmarks of his six-year career to date.
In return, the A’s received right-handed reliever Blake Treinen, whose 5.73 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 have helped drag the Nationals’ bullpen to a league-worst ranking. Despite his struggles on the mound this year, Treinen is only one season removed from a sparkling career-best 2.28 ERA in 2016 and has been the model of consistency in each of his previous three campaigns with the Nationals.
Minor leaguers Sheldon Neuse and Jesus Luzardo also rounded out the deal on Oakland’s end. Neuse, 22, was drafted in the second round of the 2016 amateur draft and has split his 2017 season between third base and short in Single-A Hagerstown. He’s batting .291/.349/.469 with nine home runs and an .818 OPS through 321 PA in his first season in the South Atlantic League.
Left-hander Jesus Luzardo, 19, is just starting his first stint in pro ball. He was drafted out of Stoneman-Douglas High School in the third round of the 2016 draft, not three months after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. He was assigned to the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2017 and is 1-0 through his first three starts in rookie ball, touting a 1.32 ERA and 9.9 SO/9 through 13 2/3 innings.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.