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.
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