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The Bonifacio Trade, Revisited, Pt. I

Josh Willingham's home run last night -- a solo shot in the seventh -- was just one of four during the game, no more important than the others. Except for this: It enlarged the Nats lead (from 3-2 to 4-2) just enough to allow for a half-exhale. And, it instantly made Willingham a little less disgusted to look at his personal stat line -- 0-for-11 before that pinch-hit AB.

"Well, I filled up a lot of columns," Willingham said. "I got a batting average now, I got a run scored, a home run, an RBI. So, yeah, it's definitely good."

Following the second pinch-hit home run of his career, the home run ball was in his locker -- unbeknownst to him. He actually scanned the ball to check its authenticity. He didn't know who put it there, but when he discovered the MLB seal, he confirmed it was an actual game ball. He said of rising from the bench and homering, "It takes a lot of preparation, keeping your body loose. You never know when they'll call a double switch or to come in and pinch hit. Getting more used to it, I guess. But it's one of those things that you need to make sure you prepare."

We'll forever have opportunities to perform calculus on the offseason Willingham-Scott Olsen/Emilio Bonifacio trade, but with Boni's club coming into DC tonight, and with Willingham's role again enlarged with the "deletion" -- Mike Rizzo's word -- of Lastings Milledge, this seems like a decent flagstick moment.

More or less, you can predict what you're getting with Willingham. Play him every other day, use him off the bench otherwise, and you'll probably get 350 ABs, about 15 HRs, and an OBP just north of .350. He's a qualified starter, but he's a superb fourth outfielder. If he gets hot, let him play more, let Kearns plays less. Either way, with Milledge gone, Willingham has more value to the Nats.

(By the way, for the moment, I'm avoiding the Olsen analysis. Really, I just want an excuse to segue to EB. Let's give Olsen a few more starts before any proclamations come down. I want to see if his velocity surfaces somewhere in the lost-and-found bin, because I'm convinced Olsen is a worthwhile pitcher if he can hit 90-91. Throwing consistently at 87, he's far more of a liability. His first two starts -- one with disconcerting velocity, one where it improved -- show an inconclusive picture.)

Now Bonifacio. Sure, he tore up the Nats in the opening series this year. He looked like a video game version of Lou Brock. But those I talked to about Bonifacio were unimpressed, and felt certain he'd regress -- quickly -- into the light-hitting player Washington saw in 2008. There is no doubt that, during spurts, Bonifacio can take over a game with speed like few others. Remember that week from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7 last year? Bonifacio came in, batted .375, slugged .594. He had five multi-hit games in a span of six.

But after that? Bonifacio's average fell like a barrel going over Niagara. Very quickly, the league saw his weakness. As a right-hander, he steps away from the plate -- "into the bucket," as they say -- making him susceptible to outside pitches. Give him something down the middle or inside, and Bonifacio can handle it. But place the ball away, and he's limited.

This year, those who've seen Bonifacio notice the same major flaw. He has not improved. Bonifacio's tear against the Nats was enabled by Washington's pitchers, who knew the scouting report, but missed time and time again when trying to locate pitches. They came inside, and Bonifacio, as a right-hander, made them pay.

Bonifacio had multi-hit games in each of the first five games this year. Since, he's gone 3-for-20. That's not to discount him as a weapon -- any time he reaches base, he dictates every moment -- but just remember this: The player Washington traded away is still pretty much the same player, according to scouts.

By Chico Harlan  |  April 17, 2009; 10:03 AM ET
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Nice analysis, Chico. Proof is in the pudding. We'll be watching closely, to be sure.

Posted by: fischy | April 17, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I continue to be of the opinion that the Bonnfacion trade was a good one. Even if he were to sustain his production at a high level this year (.280, 100 Runs, 40 SB's) I think it was a good deal. Willingham is proven and Olsen is young and lefthanded. No one - absolutely no one with a brain - evaluated the trade as a win for the Marlins at the time. I hope Willingham gets a chance to play soon - maybe tonight?

Posted by: natbiscuits | April 17, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I agree with your analysis, but would still feel better if the Nats shut him down this weekend.


Posted by: kevincostello | April 17, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I liked Bonifacio and was sorry to see him go. He did, however, have an eerie resemblance to the parade of light hitting center fielders who have trouped through here and looked like something for a moment (aka Kenny-Brandon-Nook Watson-Logan-Kelly).

Posted by: joebleux | April 17, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

Even if you go inside on him, our pitchers need to keep the ball down, pound the strike zone, and work fast. Martis did that last night and it was a thing of beauty. Hinkley and Biemel did the same thing when they came in.

Posted by: 6thandD | April 17, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse


george bernard shaw said, 'i'd have written you a shorter letter but i didn't have time.'

i'm pretty sure that was Abraham Lincoln who first wrote that.

my favorite part last night was 3-0 count on Dukes, you can hear someone on tv say "Throw it down the middle, he won't hit it" just as windup started, that was beautiful.

Posted by: longterm | April 17, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

How to measure a trade really? Game by game? Series by series? Addressing team weaknesses?

At the time the trade was made, we had a ton of infielders: AH, RB, CG, and AG. Plus EBoni. And we had no power and serious questions about AK, WMP, and whether the FO would be able to sign a FA or whether one would even sign with us. Dunn was on the radar, but if the economy were better, let's be honest, Dunn probably wouldn't have signed here. In which case, Willingham would be the starting LF. And adding pitching always helps. So I don't think it was a bad deal then or now. Is Eboni going to be the next Jose Reyes? No. Will he crush 15 bombs a year? Not if other CFs play him like he's in the majors and not in little league.

Posted by: dclifer | April 17, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I thought the shorter letter was Samuel Johnson, but I googled it, and first found credit to Mark Twain, then found this long list, which starts as follows:

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Blaise Pascal, (1623-1662) Lettres provinciales.

Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.

Henry David Thoreau

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

Marcus T. Cicero

But it's such a good line I think it's fair for the credit to go around.

Posted by: Traveler8 | April 17, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Bonifacio isn't going to finish the season with an OBP north of .310. He's not a leadoff hitter, he has some value, but not as a starter. Willingham can do just what you said, Olsen has had 2 bad starts - but he had 17 quality starts last year. I don't think that just disappeared. I'm still in line with what everyone said last year, including everyone on ESPN and everywhere else - this was a very good deal for the Nats.

Posted by: CharlieF | April 17, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

great post, Chico. thanks for the effort.

Posted by: NatsNut | April 17, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

it is very hard to analyze an individual trade. they rarely make sense in a vacuum. everything does change everything.

marlins are probably still happy with it also since they cleared roster spots and have a very impressive rotation. oh yea, and they are 8-1.

it was a good trade for both teams, damn the stats.

Posted by: longterm | April 17, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Chico, when will you jump on the Strasburg bandwagon and start writing about him every day?

Posted by: nervousnatsfan | April 17, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

The wildcard in this trade are the two kids we traded to the Marlins - Jake Smolinski & P.J. Dean. Dean looked very good at Vermont last year and Smolinksi was well thought of.

If they become solid major leaguers, then the trade might favor the Marlins. But if just one pans out, and if Willingham and & Olsen play like they did while with the Marlins, it's a coup for the Nationals.

Posted by: rushfari | April 17, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Got new posted, which is a wonderful thing.
Great post!
There appear to be no rules here other than love of the game and a little courtesy. You're over qualified on both. Please continue to post with frequency. Don't deny us your thoughts and we will return the favor.
I felt relaxed watching the game. I wasn't worried about us giving the game away with a "pass route" in CF, with lead off incompetence or really unconcious base running. We might lose to the world champions but we wouldn't give them the game.
Now after one win I remeber that Earl Weaver said, "Momentum in baseball all depends on the next day's starting pitcher."
Go Nats! This is fun.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | April 17, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Nice post. I agree with you about Olsen. Apparently he started regaining some of his velocity. I'd like to wait and see before making up my mind.

Let's play two!

Posted by: SlowPitch63 | April 17, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Chico, can someone confirm that Zimmerman signed an extension on Monday or Tuesday. Their are rumors starting to fly

Posted by: JDB1 | April 17, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

where are these rumors? I thought he wasn't going to do contract negotiations during the season...

Posted by: nervousnatsfan | April 17, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

"I just heard Zimmerman Just signed a long term deal. Any truth?

Posted by: JDB1 | April 15, 2009 3:54 PM"

Hmmm. So, where'd you "hear" this?

I'm trying to think of why the Nats wouldn't announce such a signing immediately after it's done. What I'm coming up with is that someone's got an awful lot of time on their hands to put this much effort into fabricating this story.

Posted by: joebleux | April 17, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Word is he signed Monday or Tuesday and it hasn't been released

Posted by: JDB1 | April 17, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Kearns is so bad.

Posted by: RickFelt | April 17, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

"Word is he signed Monday or Tuesday and it hasn't been released

Posted by: JDB1 "

No, that was an autograph he signed on Monday. Some sucker finally ponied up the dough for one. I wonder how long his kid had been crying at that point?

Posted by: nunof1 | April 17, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

One would think that the Nats would release the news right away given that it could be good PR for the team.

Also, there's a Nats-related "when it clicked" post over on the insider blog. Get in there, Johnny Boy. Get in there. :-D

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | April 17, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Rizzo really said "deleted"?


Posted by: Meridian1 | April 17, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Rizzo/The team must have really been p*ssed at Milledge to use such a word. Wow.

You have to think the trade was good for the Nationals. We gave up a surplus part (one of 5 2nd basemen we had on the roster at the time) for a starting OF and a starting pitcher, both areas of need. We also gave up two good prospects yes, but they were low-A/Rookie league prospects who could be HoFers or cab drivers in due time.

That being said, I'm really concerned about Olsen. A middling lefty with a half-a-pack a day cigarette habit whose numbers keep looking worse and is losing velocity while only being 25 is not a good sign. How many bad starts does he get before he gets yanked?

Posted by: tboss | April 17, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

"Proof is in the pudding"

The proper expression is "the proof of the pudding is in the eating." The one you cited was a slogan Bill Cosby muttered in a Jell-o commercial.

Posted by: Section506 | April 17, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

I saw the Title and got that queezy feeling in my stomach.

Bonifacio "IF" he continues to get on base will be a great pickup for the Marlins. Too early to tell as the Nats can hopefully groom Hernandez into that same type of role (just not sure if the same speed is there).

Nice to see Bernadina swipe that base last night. If RB can get a good jump off of the pitcher, he can steal 2nd "at will" but his problem in the past was not stealing off of the pitcher.

Great move BTW by Manny last night to put RB in for defense in the 8th and that can be his ongoing role to sub in the 7th inning and beyond for Dunn with a good lead.

Posted by: dmacman88 | April 17, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse,-Zimmerman-closing-on-extension

Posted by: JDB1 | April 17, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

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