On Sunday morning, the Oakland Athletics traded relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals for reliever Blake Treinen, infielder Sheldon Neuse and left-hander starter Jesus Luzardo. The trade is the first in what figures to be several deals the A’s make before the non-waiver trade deadline.
The Nationals had been rumored as landing places for both Doolittle and Madson, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the deal consummated. From a strictly unemotional perspective, it is easy to see what both sides are receiving in this deal: the Nationals bolster their biggest area of weakness with two veterans who can both set-up and close, while the A’s added a young, dynamic bullpen arm who has a history with the organization and two prospects the team had reportedly been interested in during the run-up to the 2016 MLB draft.
But, of course, sports are not an unemotional endeavor. With every trade, fans say good-bye to players to whom they have grown attached, and that aspect of any deal colors the reaction to it. That is certainly the case with Doolittle, who has been a leader and a fan favorite with the A’s for many years.
From my own perspective, it is hard to separate the personal feelings from the analytical aspect of evaluating this trade. I have enjoyed watching Doolittle play since the A’s selected him in the 2007 draft as a first baseman out of the University of Virginia. I thought he was going to be the A’s first baseman for the next decade after his standout 2008 season with High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland. My admiration for him as an athlete grew exponentially when I watched him struggle through knee and wrist injuries in 2009-2011 and remake himself as a reliever in the obscurity of the A’s minor league complex during the fall of 2011.
Doolittle isn’t just an excellent athlete, of course. He’s a fun and intelligent interview and his interaction with the media and with fans has always been top notch. He and his fiancée Eireann Dolan have been passionately involved in numerous causes in the community and their work with veterans is inspirational. As a member of the media and as a fan, I will miss having both of them as part of the A’s family.
As for the actual deal itself, the Nationals will know whether it worked for them or not by the end of next season, when Madson’s contract expires and the last year of Doolittle’s guarantee is up (he has two team options for 2019 and 2020). For the A’s, the true success or failure of this trade will be determined several years from now. Of the three players the A’s acquired, only Treinen will be in the big leagues this year and maybe the next two years. Trades for prospects have a pretty long runtime in terms of their ultimate impact. The A’s trade of Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Chicago Cubs in 2008 looked like a dud until Josh Donaldson emerged in 2012. So I’m not going to proclaim any winners and losers in this deal for the teams involved. The fans are going to take some time to recover from losing a favorite like Doolittle, and that’s certainly okay. I cried when the A’s traded Jose Canseco. It’s part of the job description for a fan.
That all being said, what did the A’s receive in this deal? Let’s take a look.
Blake Treinen, RHP
If the name Blake Treinen sounds familiar to A’s fans, it’s because he was a member of the organization a few years ago. The right-hander was the A’s 7th-round selection in 2011, a draft class which netted just three big leaguers: Treinen, Sonny Gray (round 1) and Chris Bostick (round 44).
Treinen was an interesting story on draft day. He was 23 years old when he was selected, but he didn’t have much mileage on his arm after bouncing around for a few years in college without pitching many innings before finding a home at South Dakota State. Treinen went to the Florida Marlins in 2010 in the 28th-round, but a fuzzy MRI scuttled the deal with the Fish and he returned to SD State for his senior season. His velocity jumped significantly his senior year and the A’s grabbed him in the seventh round the next season. Our own Bill Seals profiled Treinen shortly after the draft (http://www.scout.com/mlb/athletics/story/1084715-marlins-loss-could-be-oakland-s-gain).
Treinen threw 27 innings in Low-A for the Burlington Bees in 2011 and then jumped to High-A Stockton in 2012. He spent the entire season with the Ports, pitching mostly as a starter. He posted a 4.37 ERA and struck-out 92 while walking 23 in 103 innings. Treinen flashed impressive stuff, including a fastball that topped out at 97 and a heavy sinker, along with an effective slider. He missed the entire month of July with injury. At the end of the season, I ranked Treinen as the A’s 30th-best prospect.
In January 2013, Treinen’s career took another turn, as he was part of the package of players the A’s sent to the Nationals in a three-team deal that netted the A’s catcher John Jaso. Treinen spent the 2013 season as a starter at the Double-A level with Washington. After catching the eye of the Nationals’ major league staff that spring, Treinen made his major league debut in April 2014. He would split the season between Triple-A and the big leagues, posting a 3.35 ERA in 16 starts in Triple-A and a 2.49 in 50 innings (eight starts, seven relief appearances) in the big leagues.
In 2015, Treinen made the permanent move to the bullpen. He made five relief appearances with Syracuse but spent the rest of the season with the Nationals. In 67.2 innings, he struck-out 65 and posted a 3.86 ERA. In 2016, Treinen was one of the top set-up men in the National League. He had a 2.28 ERA in 67 innings and he struck-out 63. He came into the 2017 season as the favorite to close for the Nationals.
Things haven’t gone according to plan for Treinen this season. He struggled in a closer’s role and has a 5.53 ERA in 37.2 innings. He has a 32:13 K:BB, but opposing batters are hitting .320 against him. Treinen’s stuff hasn’t been an issue – according to FanGraphs, his velocities are very much in-line with last season – but he has been a lot more hittable. Scott Emerson and Garvin Alston were both minor league pitching coaches in the A’s system when Treinen was previously with the organization. They will be tasked with figuring out why Treinen has been so much more hittable this year than in years past.
Treinen’s stuff is very good. He throws a one-seam fastball that touches 99 MPH, an unheard of velocity for a one-seamer. He can also touch 100 with his fourseam and he has a nasty slider that sits at 87 MPH. He also has a change-up that sits 87, a pitch that perhaps the A’s can get him to take a bit more off of to create more separation.
Treinen is a groundball pitcher who has allowed 0.5 HR/9 in his big league career and he has averaged 7.7 K/9. He does walk his fair share of batters, with 3.1 BB/9 this year and 3.6 for his MLB career. Treinen is arbitration-eligible for next season and is under team control through the 2021 season.
Sheldon Neuse, IF
Sheldon Neuse is a burly infielder who served as both a SS/3B and a closer at the University of Oklahoma. He was a member of a talented Sooners club that was heavily scouted going into last year’s draft. Neuse was the Sooners’ top offensive performer in 2016, posting a .369/.465/.646 line with 10 homeruns and 39 walks in 55 games. The A’s were one of several teams connected to Neuse going into the draft. He ended up landing with the Nationals in the second round (#58 overall).
After playing short-season last year, Neuse has been in the Low-A Sally League with the Hagerstown Suns this season. He was a mid-season All-Star in the Sally League and he had a .291/.349/.469 line with nine homers and 12 stolen bases in 77 games at the time of the trade.
Neuse has been labeled a “bad-body prospect” for most of his career, but he moves well for a player of his build. He has a strong lower half that helps him generate power and a patient approach that allows him to see a lot of pitches. Neuse has average foot speed and good baseball instincts. His throwing arm is above-average. He has split his time between third base and shortstop this season. Neuse’s longterm future is likely more at third base than at short, but he could also find a home at second, first or right field.
Neuse turns 23 in December.
Jesus Luzardo, LHP
Luzardo is the least-experienced and highest-ceiling player in the package the A’s received from Washington. Also a member of the 2016 draft class, Luzardo went one round after Neuse to the Nationals in last year’s draft.
A native of Parkland, Florida, Luzardo had first-round buzz early in the 2016 draft season, but he injured his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in March of last year. He was a Miami commit but signed with the Nationals for an over-slot bonus of $1.4 million.
Luzardo continued his rehab with the Nationals once he signed with them and recently made his return to the mound in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. The 19-year-old southpaw has a 1.32 ERA and a 15:0 K:BB in 13.2 innings so far this year.
When at full strength, Luzardo has big-time stuff. His fastball was clocked as high as 97 in high school and he has a power curveball that is a potential plus offering. His change-up also flashed as a promising pitch before the injury. Luzardo will join a class of promising pitching prospects in the lower-levels of the A’s system and he joins A.J. Puk as a potential top-of-the-rotation left-handed starting pitcher in the A’s system.