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Nats, Perez in Holding Pattern

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2004; Page D05

The Washington Nationals remain at a standstill in their pursuit of free agent pitcher Odalis Perez, the team's primary target remaining on the market. And if Perez indeed signs with another team, the Nationals almost certainly won't pursue one of the remaining free agent pitchers on the market, meaning they could begin their first season in Washington with the same rotation that struggled with injuries and inconsistency during the franchise's final campaign in Montreal.

Perez claimed in an interview with a newspaper in his native Dominican Republic that he would meet with New York Mets General Manager Omar Minaya this week, a claim the Mets disputed. But a baseball source said yesterday that both the Mets and Florida Marlins are involved in the pursuit of Perez, who went 7-6 with a 3.25 earned run average last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, and that the Marlins might quietly have the inside track.

Odalis Perez is Washington's primary target remaining on the market. (Chris Carlson - AP)

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Reached at the Nationals' spring training facility in Viera, Fla., Washington interim general manager Jim Bowden, who earlier described the club's pursuit of Perez as "on life support," said he had nothing new to report in the talks, though he remains in daily contact with Perez's representatives. Seattle and the Nationals are each believed to have offered three-year deals worth about $18 million.

A month ago, Bowden dispatched former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Rijo to help woo Perez to Washington. Rijo, who is likely to be named to the Nationals coaching staff next week, is also a native of the Dominican Republic. Rijo said yesterday that he talks to Perez every day, but added that the Mets are using another Dominican -- new ace Pedro Martinez -- to work on getting Perez to New York. Martinez is represented by Fernando Cuza, a member of Perez's negotiating team. Cuza did not return phone calls yesterday.

"I think the Mets put a lot of pressure on him," Rijo said by telephone. "They're having Pedro Martinez [talk] to him. I'm talking to him myself. I told him I don't want him to be a third or fourth pitcher in one city when he can be No. 1 in another city."

Rijo said Perez told him at one point he would be willing to accept $6.5 million per season, but that may have changed with the involvement of other teams.

"I told him he doesn't want to play in New York," Rijo said. "Even for a superstar like Pedro, that's a lot of pressure. The press is horrible on people there. I don't think he wants to go to that pressure. I think he should come and pitch every five days and have fun in a city where baseball is new."

Perez, a 27-year-old left-hander, is the only one of the remaining free agent starters who fits what Bowden says he wants for the team -- someone affordable in his prime. Therefore, the Nationals almost certainly won't pursue Esteban Loaiza, Aaron Sele, Ismael Valdez or other available pitchers.

The Nationals' rotation currently consists of Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr., Tomo Ohka, Zach Day and John Patterson, with 6-foot-11 Jon Rauch also a possibility.

Nationals Notes: Rijo repeated that he has accepted a job to be the team's bullpen coach. Matt Galante, a former coach with the Mets, will likely get the last spot on Manager Frank Robinson's staff. The announcements are expected to be made next week.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company