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Willingham, Olsen Acquired From Florida

The Washington Nationals tonight struck a trade that satisfied two of their largest needs, fulfilling much of their offseason agenda while wasting little time.

By sending second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and minor leaguers P.J. Dean and Jake Smolinski to the Florida Marlins, Washington acquired outfielder Josh Willingham and pitcher Scott Olsen, a pair that the organization will count on to provide, respectively, power and innings. A press conference is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in Washington to announce the deal, which several sources confirmed tonight.

Willingham, 29, and Olsen, 24, will immediately become among Washington's most vital components. The team is hoping that Willingham, best suited as a corner outfielder, can fill the much-needed power void; he hit 15 home runs in a 2008 season shorted by back problems, but in the two prior years, Willingham hit a combined 47 home runs. A career .266 hitter, Willingham for his career averages one home run every 22.6 at bats, a ratio better than every regular Washington player in 2008 but Elijah Dukes.

"He told me that he's been working out hard every day, and his back is 100 percent now," Willingham's agent, Matt Sosnick, said. "I think he feels like his back is under control. I think he's going to be great [in Washington]."

Washington entered the offseason hoping to acquire not just a power hitter, but also a front-end pitcher. The team will now give Olsen, a left-hander who last year went 8-11 with a 4.20 ERA, a chance to grow into such a role. Olsen is big (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) and durable; he's topped 30 starts and 175 innings in all three full major league seasons. But he's also been maddeningly inconsistent, with periods of ineffectiveness -- in one 22-start span last year, he has just two wins -- and a history of confrontations with teammates.

His volatile demeanor has shown itself in off-field problems, too. In 2007, Olsen fled arrest after being stopped for speeding. He was later charged with a DUI.

Willingham and Olsen were both part of the young nucleus that Florida is now deconstructing. Both are arbitration-eligible this offseason, entitled to significant raises.

By trading Bonifacio, Washington parted with the second baseman it had acquired just months earlier from Arizona, in exchange for relief pitcher Jon Rauch. When he came to the organization, team management hailed Bonifacio was the second baseman of the future -- a regular and a lead-off man. But just weeks into his time with the Nationals, Bonifacio was platooning at second and often hitting seventh or eighth. Anderson Hernandez, who hit .333 in 81 at bats with Washington in 2008, will likely enter the upcoming season as the starting second baseman.

Dean is a starter who just turned 20 years old. He finished 2008 with Class A Vermont, where in 10 starts he went 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA. Smolinski, a middle infielder, was selected in the second round of the 2007 draft, and was considered one of Washington's brighter (though younger) prospects. As a 19-year-old in 2008, Smolinski rose from the rookie league to Class A Hagerstown. In 50 games and 184 at bats with Hagerstown, Smolinski batted .261 with four home runs and 22 RBI.

By Chico Harlan  |  November 10, 2008; 10:49 PM ET
 
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Comments

I guess you can add one more team willing to work with Bowden. On its face, the trade reminds me of the deal for Kearns & Lopez. Two team controlled players for what amounts to surplus and short season prospects.

I'm pretty excited about Olsen. A 24 year old, slightly above league average lefty with three 175+ inning seasons already in the books. I'd pencil in 600 innings over his next three team controlled seasons. Hopefully he has matured and the tantrums are behind him. Redding, Lannan and Olsen lock down three rotation spots with a horde of candidates to fill out the rest. No true ace, but I'm more comfortable with the rotation now than at this point last year.

I hope Willinghams back holds out and he can bring 25 homers to the offense, but I gotta believe the Nats arent done sculpting their offense. Willingham is another question mark in the glut of 1B/OF types and doesnt solve the Nats need for a power lefty bat.

Posted by: LosDoceOcho | November 10, 2008 11:07 PM | Report abuse

It's hard not to see this as GREAT news. Bonafacio wasn't going to be the answer, and Anderson Hernandez has earned his shot -- last I heard he was tearing it up in the Dominican league. The two other guys could end up being stars some day, but clearly, that's a chance a team like the Nats has to take. Olsen is a quality starter, even though we now have another loose cannon. Willingham is an upgrade from Kearns. This is almost like free signings, because these guys are going to earn big bucks (that Florida wasn't prepared to pay) in arbitration. Bravo, Jim Bowden, on this one.

Posted by: nats24 | November 10, 2008 11:21 PM | Report abuse

I don't see any real loss here. As far as second base goes though, is there any chance that Orlando Hudson's name comes up again this off-season?

Posted by: AlexL925 | November 10, 2008 11:27 PM | Report abuse

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3694981&name=law_keith

Keith Law does not usually say nice things about the Nats, but this is a pretty ggod review of the trade from the Nats perspective. Good info too.

Posted by: natbisquit | November 10, 2008 11:34 PM | Report abuse

On its face, the trade reminds me of the deal for Kearns & Lopez.

Exactly. And why are we happy?

Posted by: sbiel2 | November 10, 2008 11:38 PM | Report abuse

I won't miss Bonifacio, since we didn't get to see much of that vaunted potential. There was some, though. Did the same scouting department that was so high on Bonifacio 3 months ago give up on him that quickly? Hopefully, Hernandez will work out as the main man, with Belliard filling in behind him?

I think we did give up two, maybe three pretty decent prospects, and not really sure what we got in return. Willingham can look good at times, and so can Olsen, but neither are consistently really good. The comment above comparing this to Kearns and Lopez isn't that far off -- except we've given up possibly better prospects this time, and got players with even less potential. Forgive me, but I can't get too excited about Willingham or Olsen -- not as long-term answers. They're decent players, but hardly anchors for a team on the rise...

Posted by: fischy | November 10, 2008 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Willingham played two games at 1B in 2006. Just sayin'.

If nothing else, this means I will thankfully no longer need to endure the Florida TV announcers calling Willingham "Hammer" over and over and over again.

By the way, let's not start that crap here, either.

Posted by: JohninMpls | November 10, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

He's not "Hammer." The proper nickname for him is "I do not like" Josh Willingham "Sam I am."

Posted by: sbiel2 | November 11, 2008 12:12 AM | Report abuse

"struck a trade that satisfied two of their largest needs, fulfilling much of their offseason agenda"

really? getting an average .254 hitting outfielder and a pitcher with a career losing record and a lifetime era above 4 is fulfilling your needs. wow. not to mention that they totally whiffed on bonafacio didnt they and i guess gave up rauch for another outfielder and this pitcher. talk about spinning your wheels.
some things never change.
this team is goin nowhere fast.

Posted by: dovelevine | November 11, 2008 1:01 AM | Report abuse

good move. randy st. claire has worked wonders with much less talent than scott olsen. we really love those lefty starters.

Posted by: longterm | November 11, 2008 7:49 AM | Report abuse

Re. Olsen, when I read the item in the dead-tree edition this morning, I thought I remembered a DUI incident. Didn't remember the scuffles with teammates but as others have noted hope that he's matured in that regard (and that St. Claire can help as far as consistency on the mound).

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2944588

Re. Willingham, hope that he's able to stay healthy. I kinda like "the Hammer" nickname, JiMpls. :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | November 11, 2008 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Now that's just not funny!

Posted by: JohninMpls | November 11, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Great trade. This is perhaps the first trade in two years where I see the management trying to improve the on field product for 2009. Bonifacio's stock seemed to fall quick, it appeared that he had Nook Logan's approach to hitting left handed, and made a lot of errors. The reason for the Marlins making the trade is a salary dump. I guess it turns out Rauch was worth Olson and Willingham. This is all good.

I don't think Willingham is going to be playing first base, though. Fox Sports (Rosenhthal) indicates that the Nats offered Mark Texiera over $200 million and are front runners in the Tex sweepstakes. Also Dunn is on the radar too. I don't think Bowden and Kasten are finished by any means.

Posted by: raymitten | November 11, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse

What, you don't like M.C. Hammer or Hammerin' Hank?

Posted by: natsfan1a | November 11, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Good trade, but the lineup is still profoundly righthanded. JimBow needs to get some balance and not count on getting anything from Nick Johnson as the token lefthanded bat.

Posted by: leetee1955 | November 11, 2008 9:06 AM | Report abuse

It’s hard not to see this trade as an upgrade. However, I’m concerned about this:

“The Washington Nationals tonight struck a trade that satisfied two of their largest needs, fulfilling much of their offseason agenda while wasting little time.”

I do not see Willingham as the difference maker #4 hitter the Nats have targeted this offseason. Additionally, acquiring Willingham makes signing say Adam Dunn make a lot less sense given the logjam in the outfield (unless you’re projecting Dunn at 1B). What this does make me think is that perhaps they acquired Willingham in an effort to add major league pieces to a trade offer for someone like Prince Fielder – then fill in the OF with perhaps Adam Dunn.

I can’t see them repackaging Olsen. I think he was the piece of this puzzle they were after in the 1st place. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Marlins insisted on a bigger package on both sides with Willingham included.

Whether this trade was made for its components at face value or for what the components can bring in future moves it was a good trade for the Nats.

Posted by: RicketyCricket | November 11, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

tex is a switch hitting #4 hitter. that would settle pretty much all our offensive concerns. add texiera and we can focus on 2b in the future.

o. hudson
milledge
zimmerman
teixiera
dukes
willingham
flores
guzman
burnett

Nice lineup!

Posted by: longterm | November 11, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Most of what I've read have the Nats largely ignoring Burnett due to his history of injury (although I'm not terribly sure how that's different than trading for a guy who missed significant time last year with back issues).

Hudson would be fine but I think it's far more likely that Anderson Hernandez is at 2B next year.

Tex is a pipe dream. I want to see them make a competitive offer at least to show they're serious but with BOS/NYY/BALT/LAA involved I just don't see it.

Posted by: RicketyCricket | November 11, 2008 9:27 AM | Report abuse

I admit to missing Boni already. Yeah, yeah, I agree that he has no power, strikes out a lot, and makes errors but I felt that he had great potential to be a base stealing threat. (That sounds like damning with faint praise, doesn't it? But I REALLY liked his speed.)

On the other hand perhaps we have just added a little juice to our power. I distrust all power stats from the Marlins based on my observation that every single player swung for the home run on every pitch. The only thing that I remember about Olsen was that he sweatted heavily.

Posted by: driley | November 11, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I like the selective use of the batting average to disparage Willingham. He's a career .361 OBP . . . if NJ isn't in the line up wouldn't that make Josh our best OBP guy by a long shot?

The first question to ask JimBo now is: Is Austin Kearns a $9m 4th outfielder now? Aside from his salary, he'd be a decent fit in that role . . . can play defense at all three OF positions and is a more than competent ML hitter. Or is Josh the replacement for Aaron Boone? RH hitting PH and platoon partner for NJ?

As for Olsen, he was a league average starter in 200 innings as a 24 year old last year. Jon Garland was less than league average, is over 30, is right handed and will get over $10m per for 3-4 years. So, based on that market, getting Olsen is a steal even if he never matures into an ace. He'll turn a profit if he's nothing more than league average (which would be quite an improvement for the Nats rotation).

This is exactly how the Nats need to function . . . not waste money on free agents who will be overpaid but grab these arb-eligible youngish major leaguers that teams like Florida can't pay. Better yet, they were acquired a almost no prospect cost . . . Smolinski had knee surgery and will miss 2009 and P.J. Dean is a long way from the bigs. Not even a top 5 pitching prospect.

If you are looking for a down side, I guess the Bonifaco/Rauch deal was a mistake. And, if you subscribe to the theory that any team can handle one head case but if you have more than one you risk a clubhouse blowup then well, we've got two problem children now.

Posted by: traderkirk | November 11, 2008 9:42 AM | Report abuse

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