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Despite Impasse, Nats Sign Pitcher for 1 Year

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 20, 2004; Page D11

The Washington Nationals, still hamstrung by the political wrangling over the club's move from Montreal, came to terms yesterday with pitcher Joey Eischen on a one-year contract. He was the only one of the team's seven arbitration-eligible players that the Nationals were able to sign before today's deadline, in which clubs must decide whether to offer such players contracts.

"We're kind of slowed down by what's going on in Washington," interim general manager Jim Bowden said. "If that situation gets cleared up, we'll know how we should proceed and what we'll be able to do."

Joey Eischen pitched sparingly while struggling with elbow problems last season. (Paul Chiasson -- AP)

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Officials from Major League Baseball and the District are scheduled to meet today to see if there is any room to overcome the impasse that resulted from last Tuesday's vote of the D.C. Council, in which the council added an amendment into the legislation requiring that at least half the financing for a new stadium be private.

Eischen accepted the non-guaranteed, $1.04 million deal despite the fact that he made $1.3 million last season because the club may have declined to offer him a contract otherwise, a process called "non-tendering." Eischen, a left-hander, struggled with elbow injuries all season and made only 21 appearances for Montreal, going 0-1 with a 3.93 ERA in just 18 1/3 innings.

Bowden said yesterday that the team won't be able to work out deals with any of its other players eligible for arbitration before today's deadline, including several members of the core of the team: catcher Brian Schneider, outfielder-first baseman Brad Wilkerson, first baseman Nick Johnson and pitchers Tomo Ohka, Tony Armas Jr. and T.J. Tucker. Arbitration hearings don't start until February, so the sides could still come to terms.

Bowden said one of those players could be non-tendered. Both Ohka and Armas battled injuries last season while Tucker became a reliable middle reliever. "We have a couple of decisions to make in the next 24 hours," Bowden said.

The Nationals received a bit of good news yesterday when free agent pitcher Odalis Perez -- Bowden's top offseason target -- declined arbitration with his old club, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Perez, therefore, is still on the market, and club officials are optimistic that if the stadium financing deal is completed this week, Perez will remain interested in playing for Washington. Perez's agent, Fernando Cuza, said this weekend he is still talking to the Nationals.

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