The Oakland A’s signed left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins to a minor league contract on Monday, first reported by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. The signing was confirmed by Joel Sherman of the NY Post, who says Blevins can earn $1.5 million if he makes the majors.
The A’s have made a habit in recent years of bringing back their former players for a second stint, and now they’ve done it again. Blevins was a member of Oakland’s bullpen for seven seasons (2007-13), which is a particularly long tenure for this team. He pitched well for a couple of A’s playoff teams, and along the way he became a fan favorite thanks to his jovial personality and great sense of humor. In 42 save/hold chances in green and gold, he was successful in 36 of them, and he also made three scoreless appearances (3⅔ innings) in the 2012 ALDS.
Blevins, 2007-13 OAK: 3.30 ERA, 267 ip, 239 Ks, 179 BB, 45 HR, 3.88 FIP
After his time in Oakland, Blevins was traded to the Nationals (for Billy Burns!), and then spent the last four seasons with the Mets. He essentially missed 2015, after having his arm fractured by a comebacker and then reinjured tripping on a curb, but he came back strong after that. He had an off-year in 2018 and is now age 35, which is presumably why he was available on a minors deal, but it’s easy to see why he’s worth a look.
Blevins, 2016-17 NYM: 2.87 ERA, 91 ip, 121 Ks, 39 BB, 8 HR, 3.09 FIP
Blevins, 2018 NYM: 4.85 ERA, 42⅔ ip, 41 Ks, 22 BB, 6 HR, 4.97 FIP
The A’s are desperately short on left-handed pitching, so the addition of Blevins addresses a critical need in the organization. Right now the only southpaw in the bullpen is Ryan Buchter, and there aren’t really any likely prospects in the upper minors. On top of that, Buchter is more of a full-inning pitcher than a lefty specialist, whereas Blevins has a reputation for being particularly tough on lefties (even though they got to him last summer).
Excellent! The A’s needed another lefty, and Blevins is an especially fun one. It was becoming clear that they weren’t going to splurge on any kind of big name, so a cheap bounce-back candidate seemed likely and this one is as good as any. I continue to love this trend of bringing back our old favorites.
Blevins has been wonderful here before, and elsewhere recently, and he’s generally stayed healthy and reliable for the last decade. The only question is age, and whether his 2018 was a blip or the beginning of his decline. His velocity didn’t change much from the rest of his Mets tenure, but his Ks dropped and opponents made harder contact than they used to according to Statcast. For what it’s worth, though, relievers who come in for one or two batters at a time can be particularly subject to volatile stats, and if you remove Blevins’ two worst outings of 2018 then his ERA drops more than a run (3.51).
It would have been nice to sign a more prominent arm, but there is an advantage to a minor league flyer like this: Flexibility. They didn’t need to cut anyone from the roster to make this move, and if he doesn’t work out then they’re not locked in for the year (nor for any serious money). Obviously that silver lining is a bit of sour grapes too, as we all would have welcomed a bigger move for a splashier name, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
Blevins’ history in Oakland
For anyone who doesn’t remember Blevins’ previous time with the A’s, here is the big highlight (video link). The 2012 A’s were in a September dogfight to capture a surprise playoff berth, and they were facing the Angels. The Halos rallied in the 9th against closer Grant Balfour to bring the score to 6-5. Blevins came in with runners on the corners and nobody out, clinging to a one-run lead, and got Kendrys Morales to strike out and then Howie Kendrick to hit into a double play to end it. It was an all-time Houdini act, and the A’s went on to win the division by one game (albeit over the Rangers, with a five-game cushion over the Angels).
Perhaps his biggest contribution to A’s lore, though, is the Bernie Lean. It was Blevins who first introduced it to the A’s clubhouse, leading to the dance craze that helped define the magical 2012 season.
In one final note, Blevins was first acquired as a minor leaguer from the Cubs, for veteran catcher Jason Kendall. Also coming over to Oakland in that deal was catcher Rob Bowen, who was coincidentally the subject of a great profile in The Athletic today by Dan Hayes. Bowen now works in law enforcement, as part of a SWAT team and as a K-9 trainer.
Welcome back, Jerry!