Nats Add Willingham, Olsen

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, November 10, 2008 | , , , , | 4 comments »

Washington Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden made his first significant move of the off-season, acquiring OF Josh Willingham and LHP Scott Olsen from the Florida Marlins for 2B Emilio Bonifacio and low minor leaguers RHP P.J. Dean and SS Jake Smolinski.

Willingham and Olsen are both arbitration eligible, so their big league salaries will increase this off-season. This marks a major acquisition for a team that has been practicing patience and rebuilding through the draft and the minor leagues.

Willingham, 30, appeared in 102 games last season and hit .254/.364/.470 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI. He hit 26 and 21 homers in 2006 and 2007, and he has a lifetime .361 on base percentage He's a corner outfielder by trade, and the deal will have repercussions throughout the lineup. If Willingham plays in the outfield, something will have to give with Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes or Austin Kearns. Willingham could also play first base, which would displace Nick Johnson, who is recovering from wrist surgery.

Olsen is a 24-year old left hander. He went 8-11 with a 4.97 ERA in 2008 over 33 starts and 201.2 innings. Last year's numbers were somewhat of a regression from his rookie season, and Olsen has a history of physical confrontation with teammates and a drunk driving arrest. But he represents a major upgrade over most of the other candidates for the Nationals 2009 rotation.

Bonifacio, acquired from Arizona at last year's trade deadline for reliever Jon Rauch, was slated to be the Nats starting second baseman and lead off hitter, but was outplayed down the stretch by Anderson Hernandez and Alberto Gonzalez.

Dean, 22, pitched for Class A Vermont, going 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA in 10 starts. Smolinski, 19, played for the Gulf Coast Nationals, Vermont and Class A Hagerstown, and hit .271 with four home runs and 33 RBIs.

BOTTOM(FEEDER) LINE: So Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden think the Nats aren't that far away and acquired a couple of major league parts for what will be a utility infielder for Florida and a couple of low-level prospects. As soon as I saw this, I thought to myself, "What's the next domino to fall?" This only makes me think MORE that the Nats will sign either Teixiera or Dunn this off-season.

With as bad as the team was last season, and season ticket holders dwindling, the organization HAD TO do something to improve the quality of the major league product. This obviously gives them two more major league players. With a legitimate cleanup hitter, their everyday lineup won't be all that indistinguishable from anyone of eight or ten teams that consider themselves wild card candidates. The starting rotation needs another veteran, but at least Nats fans will watch major league baseball this summer, without -- and this is the key -- giving up the farm.

Photo (c) C. Nichols 2008.

4 comments

  1. Wil Nieves // November 10, 2008 at 11:57 PM  

    while i agree with most of your analysis of the trade, and have my fingers crossed that texiera will be joining us soon, i'm a little concerned that you're overestimating us.

    while this trade might be a slight step up, we still have very young pitchers, injury prone position players, and some work to do in the outfield. and most notably among some wildcard contenders, no cc sabathia to hoist us on his giant shoulders and carry us through tough times. without at least one or two more big free agent signings, i can't imagine that we will be that much better than the triple-a team i played for last year.

  2. Dave Nichols // November 11, 2008 at 1:15 AM  

    i only meant to imply that IF the Nats were able to acquire Teixeira or Dunn for the clean-up spot, the everyday lineup would look like many of the wild card contenders. the pitching staff has a loooong way to go, the acquisition of Olsen not withstanding.

  3. Wil Nieves // November 11, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

    from mlbtraderumors.com
    "The Angels do not want Scott Boras shopping around their offer to the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, and Nationals and driving up the price. Just a guess, maybe the Nats consider Josh Willingham their cleanup hitter acquisition and will back out of the Teixeira derby."

    ahhhhhhhhh!

  4. Dave Nichols // November 11, 2008 at 11:16 PM  

    Wil, i would not be so sure about that. if i were a betting man, especially after attending the press conference today and seeing Bowden face-to-face, i'd bet that he still plans to acquire that cleanup hitter he so desires.