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Pitching Tops Nats' Wish List at Meetings

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page D10

Jim Bowden, the interim general manager of the Washington Nationals, will drive from his home in Hollywood, Calif., to Anaheim this morning and begin the five-day period for which he has been planning since he took the job early last month. He will arrive for baseball's winter meetings having already overhauled a healthy portion of the Nationals' roster -- but with much more work to be done.

"We've been very clear about our needs all along," Bowden said. "We need a starter. We'd like a reliever, and we'd like to strengthen our bench."

Starter Odalis Perez is one of the players Jim Bowden would like to add for the Nationals. (Mark J. Terrill - AP)

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Though Bowden is reluctant to speak about specific players he is pursuing, major league sources have identified pitchers Odalis Perez, Steve Kline and Shawn Chacon among those in whom Bowden has considerable interest. Bowden also said he would continue speaking with the representative for free agent shortstop Barry Larkin in hopes of persuading the veteran, who has spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds, to sign a one-year deal with Washington.

The Nationals already have committed $7.3 million for next season to free agent third baseman Vinny Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman, and have lost out on two targets -- pitchers Paul Wilson and Jaret Wright -- because other teams outbid them. Wilson signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal with Cincinnati; a source with knowledge of the negotiations said Washington offered two years and $6.5 million. Wright is close to signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the New York Yankees, which put him well out of the Nationals' price range, which is likely around $4 million a year for a starter.

Another possibility, then, is Perez, who went 7-6 with a 3.25 earned run average in 31 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. Perez, who is from the Dominican Republic, is being wooed not only by Bowden, but by former Cincinnati right-hander Jose Rijo, a baseball source said.

Rijo, who pitched for the Reds when Bowden was the general manager of the club, is one of six candidates who will interview for coaching jobs with the Nationals tomorrow. Rijo, who is Dominican, helped with the recruitment of Guzman, another countryman who signed a four-year deal worth nearly $17 million with Washington last month. The Nationals believe Rijo could help as a bullpen mentor to young relievers Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero, two of the team's most talented prospects.

The Nationals have at least two openings on Manager Frank Robinson's coaching staff. If roving coach Claude Raymond isn't asked back, as appears likely, Washington may hire three coaches.

Kline, a left-handed reliever who was not offered arbitration by the St. Louis Cardinals, also has received interest from the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Lefties hit just .143 against Kline last season, when he went 2-2 with a 1.79 ERA. He was left off the World Series roster because of a partially torn ligament in the index finger on his throwing hand.

Chacon failed miserably as a closer with Colorado last season, going 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA and nine blown saves. But several clubs believe the righty, who will turn 27 later this month, has potential as a starter, a role in which he went 22-29 with the Rockies from 2001 to 2003. The Rockies had talked to Texas about a deal for Chacon as well. There is also a possibility Colorado won't offer Chacon a contract by Dec. 19, which would make him a free agent.

Larkin, who will turn 41 in April, appeared in 111 games for the Reds last season, and Bowden has pursued him since he accepted the Washington job. The trick is persuading Larkin to take a backup utility role in which he could fill in at shortstop, third base and at one or more outfield positions.

"I think Washington would be a good market for Barry, not only for next year, but for after he's done playing," Bowden said. "It's a place he might be able to transition into a front-office job."

The Nationals yesterday sold the contract of outfielder Val Pascucci to the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League, a move that brought Washington $300,000.

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