Wilson Goes From Nationals to Astros

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Preston Wilson, who at one point last season represented the Washington Nationals' committed effort to win the National League East, officially severed ties with the team after just half a season yesterday when he signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Houston Astros.

Wilson's departure from Washington was determined almost immediately after the season, and the Nationals didn't offer him salary arbitration last month, meaning they lost the right to negotiate with him until May 1.

Wilson, 31, was acquired in a July 13 trade with Colorado in which Washington sent right-hander Zach Day and minor league outfielder J.J. Davis to the Rockies. Day posted a 7.15 ERA in just five major league appearances for Colorado, and Davis wasn't called up by the Rockies.

The deal was brokered at the end of the all-star break, when the Nationals led the NL East by 2 1/2 games and General Manager Jim Bowden felt the team's offense, among the worst in the league, needed a powerful bat to hit behind right fielder Jose Guillen. Bowden and Nationals' scouts also felt Wilson could be an upgrade over Brad Wilkerson in center.

In 68 games with the Nationals, Wilson hit .261, and his 10 homers and 43 RBI were the most on the team after the all-star break.

But Wilson's defense was shaky at best, and though Manager Frank Robinson and other high-ranking team officials realized upon his arrival that Wilkerson was, in fact, a better center fielder, Wilson resisted a move to left. Wilson's offense wasn't enough to prevent the Nationals from scoring fewer runs than any team in baseball and plummeting to a 28-46 record after the break. They finished last in the NL East.

In other Nationals news, Ron Darling, the former major league pitcher who served as the color analyst on the team's television broadcasts, could be headed to a similar job with the New York Mets, the team for which he starred in the 1980s. Nationals officials hadn't been informed of Darling's departure as of last night, but the Record of Hackensack, N.J., reported that Darling is close to a two-year deal in which he would join former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez in the booth.

Darling didn't immediately return a message left on his cell phone last night.

-- Barry Svrluga

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