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Ortiz May Be Wishful Thinking

Productive Right-Hander Seems Too Costly for Nationals

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2004; Page D03

Pedro Martinez is the best-known pitcher, and personality, on the free agent market. Carl Pavano's tour of potential home cities has made news at each stop.

But no free agent pitcher has as many wins over the last four years as Russ Ortiz, late of the Atlanta Braves. It's a fact of which his agent, John Boggs, is acutely aware. Boggs has held discussions with Jim Bowden, the interim general manager of the Washington Nationals, and Ortiz "would love to pitch in Washington." However, if Ortiz ultimately gets what Boggs thinks he's worth -- perhaps $10 million annually -- there's very little chance he'll end up pitching in Washington next year.

Right-hander Russ Ortiz may prove to be too expensive for the Nationals. (John Amis - AP)

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"What we know is we've got a quality pitcher," Boggs said yesterday. "Look at his durability. Look at his numbers. He's at what we feel is the top of his [free agent] class. He doesn't get the media that Pedro Martinez gets. . . . But we think we know what he's worth."

Bowden is trying to upgrade the Nationals' rotation within the framework of the team's limited budget, expected to be about $50 million. Ortiz is one potential target, though Bowden said this week he expects the market to develop slowly, particularly until baseball's annual winter meetings begin Dec. 10 in Anaheim, Calif. Paul Wilson, who was a potential candidate for the Nats, agreed to terms yesterday on a two-year, $8.2 million deal with his former club, Cincinnati.

The Nationals' hope, then, is that the market for a pitcher such as Ortiz would come back down to their price range. An industry source scoffed at the notion Ortiz -- who made $6.2 million in 2004 -- would receive $10 million annually. The 30-year-old righty went 15-9 with a 4.13 earned run average last season.

But Boggs is basing his analysis on the four-year, $51 million contract right-hander Bartolo Colon received from the Anaheim Angels last offseason. Boggs concedes that Colon, then of the Chicago White Sox, was clearly the best starter available in last year's free agent class. But this is the pitch he'll be making at the winter meetings.

"Look at Colon's numbers," Boggs said. "We understand he was the elite guy in the class last year. So Russ won't exceed him salary-wise. But at least he's in the ballpark. I look forward to talking with Jim at the winter meetings and discussing it."

In the past six years, Ortiz has averaged 16.5 wins with a 3.93 ERA in 209 innings. He has never missed a start in his career, and over the last four seasons he has 67 wins, 10 more than Martinez and 30 more than Pavano.

Scouts, though, have said Ortiz's velocity has tailed off over the past two seasons. Critics also point to his high number of walks -- he has averaged 106 over the past six years.

Boggs said he already has three offers for Ortiz, including at least one for three years, "but no one has hit the mark yet." He has also talked to Bowden about another of his clients, righty Esteban Loaiza, who went 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA with the White Sox in 2003, but struggled last year. He was dealt to the New York Yankees in midseason, and combined to go 10-7 with a 5.70 ERA between the two teams, losing his spot in the rotation.

Ortiz, though, is likely to be more sought-after at the winter meetings. But at what price?

"It's not above the realm of possibility to think he's worth double digits [$10 million]," Boggs said. "It's going to be a process as we move forward. We could be pleasantly surprised. We could be shocked. But he's going to have a job someplace. It's just a matter of choosing the right place for him, a ballclub that he likes and wants to be a part of. Washington might be that club."

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