It’s time for another installment in our Past Trade Review series. We’ve also created a new Featured Posts page, which can always be found atop our home page which contains links to each of the past installments and any series we introduce in the future. As previously mentioned, there have been 11 total trades completed since the Nationals arrived in Washington. We started off with the lone deal completed by Jim Bowden. We’ll now take a look at the third deal by current GM Mike Rizzo.
The Colorado Rockies had gotten off to, well, a rocky start during the 2009 season. By late May the team was just 19-28, and manager Clint Hurdle was fired and replaced with Jim Tracy. The team responded quickly, winning 21 of 28 games during the month of June while leading all of Major League Baseball in runs scored (151). Three weeks into July the team had pulled itself into second place and were looking to add, rather than subtract, at the pending July Trade Deadline.
The bullpen was an area that the Rockies wanted to add depth to as they chased a playoff birth. The team had few internal options they deemed ready for the Majors, but depth in their lower levels that were comfortable parting with for the right player.
Robinson Fabian had originally signed as a 19 year old prior to the 2005 season. Over the subsequent four seasons he saw mixed results – an overall 12-20 record – while never appearing above Low-A. Midway through the 2009 season he was just 3-6 with a 6.24 ERA in 83.1 innings (24 games, 12 starts). Once again he was repeating Low-A, despite still showing some signs of promise (notably a solid K/9 rate), he didn’t seem to be a large factor in Colorado’s plans moving forward.
Meanwhile, Ryan Mattheus had been sharing his time between Triple-A, Double-A, and High-A during the 2009 season – primarily bouncing around to fill the organization’s bullpen holes as the season progressed. He was used sparingly, appearing in just 19 games and pitching just 26.0 total innings. He went 1-3 with a 3.81 ERA and 9.3 K/9.
Mattheus had been a big target for the Rockies, as the organization drafted him twice – the 34th round in 2002, the 19th round the following year. Initially he was being groomed as a starter before the Rockies organization transitioned him to a bullpen role in 2008, his second season at Double-A. That year he appeared in 58 games, totaling a 2-5 record with a 3.28 ERA in 57.2 innings of work. He also saved 17 games. The bullpen seemed like the place where Mattheus would finally develop into the pitcher the Rockies hoped he’d be.
As the Rockies’ search for bullpen help continued, the Nationals found themselves 27 games out of first place in the NL East. The team had been in last all season. Late that Spring they had signed free agent veteran reliever Joe Beimel to a one year, $2 Million deal. Few other options had presented themselves to the left-hander that winter and the general belief was that if he pitched well then perhaps a contender would trade for him in July. The Nationals’ intentions were no secret here.
Beimel had appeared in 45 games, pitching a total of 39.2 innings with a 1-5 record and 3.40 ERA. His peripheral stats were right in line with his career averages. With the Nationals mired at the bottom of the NL East, Beimel wasn’t an asset that Washington needed to hold onto. As the trade deadline approached, the Nationals and Rockies agreed to a trade.
The Nationals would receive Fabian and Mattheus.
The Rockies would receive Beimel.
Upon arriving in Colorado’s bullpen, Beimel went on to pitch a total of 15.2 innings over 26 appearances. He was 0-1 with a 4.02 ERA, allowing 7 runs on 19 hits. Beimel wasn’t a big factor down the stretch, as the Rockies would end up winning the National League Wild Card. They’d lose in the NLDS to the eventual NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Beimel faced three batters in the series, allowing one hit.
The veteran would end up resigning with the Rockies late the following March. Once again, the options on the free agent market were limited and he would only receive a base pay of $850,000 for the 2010 season. Beimel would make 71 appearances, pitching 45.0 innings with a 1-2 record and 3.40 ERA. His peripheral stats, however, were diminishing – as they would for any aging veteran.
Beimel would once again be a free agent that next winter, signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 2011 season. He was 1-1 with a 5.33 ERA and a career high 12.3 H/9 rate in 35 appearances before being released in late August.
Fabian was initially assigned to Washington’s affiliate in Hagerstown for the remainder of the 2009 season after coming over in the deal. He would pitch 23.0 innings in that time, making 9 appearances including one start. He’d go 0-1 with 2 saves and a 1.96 ERA despite drops in his BB/9 and K/9 rates.
The next season he would be promoted to High-A. He’d pitch just 31.1 innings, going 2-1 with a 4.02 ERA. According to Baseball Reference, he hasn’t pitched anywhere since.
Mattheus, meanwhile, has turned out to be the relevant piece that was acquired in this trade. Between the remainder of 2009 and all of 2010, Mattheus pitched only 11.1 innings while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The reliever had become one of Colorado’s more talked about relief prospects before the surgery, which had taken place just three weeks before he was traded.
Washington had patience, knowing full well how lengthy the recovery could be for Mattheus. In 2011, they didn’t rush the right-hander, starting him initially with their Double-A team in Harrisburg before eventually promoting him to Triple-A Syracuse. In 22 combined appearances, totaling 24.2 innings he went 2-1 with 6 saves and a 1.46 ERA. He also had a K/9 rate of 10.2 and a BB/9 rate of just 2.9 – both big improvements from his career averages.
The performance was enough to warrant making his MLB Debut on June 14th. He entered the game in the 4th inning, in relief of Yuniesky Maya, and pitched 1.1 innings with a walk and two strikeouts. The Nationals would end up winning the game after he came out, thanks to a 6 run 7th inning against the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. Mattheus didn’t factor, but impressed enough to stick around in Washington’s bullpen for the remainder of the season.
In total, Mattheus would make 35 appearances (32.0 innings). He was 2-2 with a 2.81 ERA and 1.281 WHIP. He walked more (15) than he struck out (12), but otherwise held his own working in middle relief. He will be in consideration for a spot in the bullpen this coming Spring Training. I believe he still has options remaining, meaning the team could use him in Triple-A should he lose a roster battle. At the least, he serves as young, team controlled depth.
The Final Verdict
Most deals are often tough to determine whether one side truly “won” over another. Beimel filled a specific purpose to the Rockies during the 2009 season, as they made the acquisition to give them more depth as they chased a playoff spot. They failed to advance deep into the playoffs that year, but that is because there was nobody in the National League that was going to beat the Phillies.
Yet, since being acquired by the Rockies the veteran reliever was only sparingly used and seemingly always expendable. The past few seasons he’s only been able to find one year deals and his career could be over if he does not sign with a team this winter.
Meanwhile, while the team had to wait while Mattheus recovered from Tommy John surgery, he’s since pitched well enough to spend a significant amount of time in the bullpen. His spot in next year’s bullpen isn’t assured, but he will certainly be in consideration for a role in middle relief. He’s cost affordable and under team control.
That said, signing Beimel with the intent to flip him in July seems to have been a good decision by Mike Rizzo. Or, at least it was one that has paid off so far.