The Washington Nationals have yet to convene for spring training, haven't played a game in the District, and for the most part remain faceless to the region's awaiting fan base. But yesterday, the club came to contract terms with the one player -- first baseman-outfielder Brad Wilkerson -- who appears poised to become the face of the franchise.
Wilkerson, the club's player of the year during its final season in Montreal, avoided arbitration yesterday when he agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.05 million, up from the $375,000 he made in 2004.
Outfielder and first baseman Brad Wilkerson, left, was voted the team's MVP last season.
(Toru Takahashi - AP)
"Obviously, he's one of the key players, one of the cornerstone players that the team is going to be built around," Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said. "To not have to go through the arbitration process with a key player is important."
Wilkerson's agent, Scott Boras, called his client "unique." Toggling between first base and the outfield, he hit .255 with 32 home runs and 67 runs batted in almost exclusively out of the leadoff spot. He scored 112 runs and walked 106 times, making him perhaps the team's most productive offensive player in 2004.
At last month's winter meetings, Boras and Bowden each fielded inquiries about Wilkerson from other clubs, who like his versatility and left-handed bat with power. Bowden is open to trade offers for anyone on the Nationals' roster, but considers Wilkerson nearly untouchable because he fits the description of the kind of player the club wants to build around -- relatively inexpensive, talented players in their prime. Wilkerson is 27, will be entering just his fourth full major league season and is a .259 career hitter with 72 homers and 208 RBI in 1,700 at-bats.
"The only reason he drove in only 60-something runs is because he was leading off," Bowden said. "As he continues to develop, we think he could put up huge numbers. Plus, he's a gamer. He's a winner. He plays the game right. He does the little things right. He's a loyal guy, and he plays with a tremendous intensity."
Wilkerson has expressed a desire to settle into one position, which would likely be left field if the roster remains as it is. If so, Nick Johnson, recovered from an eye injury, would be back at first base, Endy Chavez would be in center field and Jose Guillen, acquired in a trade with Anaheim, would take over in right field.
The Nationals have avoided arbitration with four of their seven eligible players, including catcher Brian Schneider (one year, $2 million) and pitchers Joey Eischen (one year, $1.04 million) and T.J. Tucker (one year, $657,000). Johnson and starters Tomo Ohka and Tony Armas Jr. still remain eligible for arbitration, though Bowden believes Johnson and Armas will sign deals avoiding the process.
Though Bowden said he's continuing to work on possible changes to the roster before pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 15, he said that free agent target Odalis Perez's impending deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers likely means the Nationals are done pursuing free agents.
"We're not going to spend money just to spend money," Bowden said.
On the business front, the Nationals continued to work on finalizing their radio deal with Clear Channel Communications, which owns local stations such as WTEM, WWRC, WASH and WIHT. And in Baltimore, Major League Baseball President Robert DuPuy met with Orioles owner Peter Angelos, resuming talks to work out a compensation package for Angelos. The sides have not yet reached a deal, but are expected to continue meeting next week.
Angelos was the lone owner to vote against the Nationals' move from Montreal, and MLB is seeking to satisfy him by guaranteeing a minimum value for his franchise should he decide to sell, as well as giving the Orioles the majority of the revenue from a proposed regional sports network that would televise both Orioles and Nationals games.