Marlins' Willingham, Olsen acquired by rebuilding Nats
WASHINGTON -- Starting pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham were traded by the Florida Marlins to the Nationals on Tuesday in a five-player deal that signals the start of Washington's efforts to revamp its roster after a major league-worst 59-102 season.
Law: Trading Up
Acquiring Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen is a win for the Washington Nats, writes Keith Law. Blog
"They talk about the plan they have with this team," Willingham said, "and I believe in it."
The Marlins received second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and two minor leaguers: second baseman Jake Smolinski and right-hander P.J. Dean.
Each player the Nationals got is entering his first year of salary arbitration.
"Money does matter, certainly in these transactions, but you want to get something back, too," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "We'll talk in a few years and see how this trade went."
Olsen went 8-11 with a 4.20 ERA in 2008, his third consecutive season with at least 31 starts -- he has never been on the disabled list. The left-hander is 31-37 with a 4.63 ERA in the majors.
"You want to be the ace, no matter where you're at," Olsen said.
He showed plenty of potential as a rookie in 2006, when he went 12-10 with a 4.04 ERA.
But his 2007 season was a wreck. Olsen was arrested on a drunken-driving charge, drew a fine for making an obscene gesture toward fans in Milwaukee and served a two-game suspension following a confrontation with a teammate. His pitching suffered, and he finished 10-15 with an ERA of 5.81, highest in the NL among starters with at least 162 innings.
The 24-year-old revived his career this season and was a model citizen, winning praise from teammates for his demeanor and work ethic.
"We did a lot of homework on his makeup," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said.
Willingham, who will be 30 on Opening Day, hit .254 with 15 homers and 51 RBIs this year, when he missed 50 games with a herniated disk in his back.
"The back is good," he said. "It's really good."
Willingham surpassed 20 home runs in 2006 and 2007 and is a career .266 hitter with 63 homers and 219 RBIs in 416 games.
A left fielder, he joins a crowded outfield in Washington that includes Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns. There had been speculation Willingham might be asked to shift to first base, but Bowden was clear: "We acquired him as a corner outfielder, not a first baseman."
Bowden and president Stan Kasten said the Nationals have had talks with other teams about other deals as they try to turn the franchise around.
"We're all embarrassed by the season we had last year," Bowden said.
Bonifacio could become an option at second base if Florida moves arbitration-eligible All-Star Dan Uggla, who reportedly could be available. But Beinfest said the Marlins will look at Bonifacio elsewhere in the infield, including third base.
The Marlins already have shipped first baseman Mike Jacobs to Kansas City this offseason and still have plenty of decisions to make about other players who were part of Florida's surprising 84-77 run this season.
Beinfest has said all offseason that the Marlins are trying to get back to their roots -- pitching and speed -- and Bonifacio helps.
"He will provide immediately some speed into our lineup," Beinfest said. "We're getting to where we want to be in terms of speed. ... If that means we have to trade off some power to head in the other direction, then that's what we're going to do."
Beinfest said the deal for Olsen has been brewing for more than a month and that Willingham became part of it last week. Bowden said the trade was essentially completed last Wednesday at the general managers' meetings in Dana Point, Calif.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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