By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
The Washington Nationals consummated a trade yesterday that helps rebuild their perilously weak minor league pitching corps but deals a blow to the major league staff, sending workhorse right-hander Livan Hernandez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two minor league prospects who, club officials said, likely won't pitch in the majors until at least 2008.
The trade -- which brings right-hander Garrett Mock and left-hander Matt Chico, both 23-year-olds who pitch in Class AA -- is the kind of deal the Nationals have sought for the past month, since the ownership group of Theodore Lerner and new president Stan Kasten officially took control of the club. Kasten wants to bring prospects into the farm system, even at the expense of the major league team, to build a franchise that can eventually contend for championships annually. General Manager Jim Bowden said yesterday Mock and Chico immediately join Colton Willems, a first-round draft pick this season, as two of the Nationals' top three pitching prospects.
"When you look at our ballclub and what our record is, none of us are satisfied," Bowden said. "We have to turn it around. . . . With our farm system in the situation that it's in, we have to find ways we can get it better and get building blocks."
To trade a player after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, clubs must put him on waivers. Each opposing franchise -- beginning with the team with the worst record -- has a chance to claim the player. Once a claim is placed, a player's team -- in this case, Washington -- has three options: let the player go, with the other team assuming the terms of the contract; try to work out a trade with the claiming club within two business days; or pull the player back and keep him.
In this case, the Diamondbacks -- who trail San Diego by two games in the National League West -- claimed Hernandez on Thursday, and the two clubs worked through the weekend. On Sunday, Hernandez punctuated his best stretch of an otherwise difficult season by pitching seven innings of two-run ball in San Diego. Over his last five starts, he has a 3.27 ERA with four walks and 23 strikeouts.
Hernandez, who led the NL in innings pitched in each of the past three seasons, leaves Washington not only with a 9-8 record and 5.34 ERA this season, but also with the memory of last April when he threw the first pitch at RFK Stadium in 34 years, a pitch that started a brilliant performance in a win over, of all teams, the Diamondbacks.
"It's difficult," Hernandez said by telephone yesterday. "It's something I [did] not expect, because I pass the trade deadline, and I think I was going to stay here. But you know, you have to take it.
"I don't got nothing against nobody here. I'm [ticked] off because it's something that I [did] not expect, but I'm not [ticked] off at anyone" in particular, he said.
Hernandez is only now recovering from offseason knee surgery. His improving performance clearly made him a more palatable option for a contender than he was before the all-star break, when he posted a 5.64 ERA and allowed hitters a .308 average.
Hernandez's contract runs through 2007, and the teams will share his remaining salary for this season -- Arizona paying $600,000 and Washington $1.5 million, according to sources with knowledge of the deal. The Diamondbacks will pay Hernandez's entire $7 million salary next season -- a fact that may help in Washington's efforts to re-sign left fielder Alfonso Soriano, an impending free agent.
"It's the exact type of deal that we have been looking for to help us fill out our foundation," Kasten said.
Arizona GM Josh Byrnes said the Diamondbacks considered both Mock and Chico major league prospects, but they had to fortify their rotation.
"Particularly the last few years, his strength has always been going deep into games, and with our rotation lately, that's been at times a problem for us," Byrnes said by phone. "We're close enough in the race that we owe it to ourselves to make a run, and Livan has a shot at being a big part of that."
Bowden said a deal with Arizona was more easily facilitated because Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' new vice president of baseball operations, had served as the Diamondbacks' scouting director and drafted both Mock and Chico, third-round picks in 2004 and 2003, respectively.
Mock entered 2006 rated by Baseball America as the Diamondbacks' seventh-best prospect. A hard-throwing, 6-foot-4, 215-pounder -- Rizzo compared his build to that of Roger Clemens -- he went 4-8 with a 4.95 ERA for Class AA Tennessee this season and has been criticized for throwing too many strikes. Bowden said the Nationals want Mock, who has four pitches, to work on his slider so that he can better mix it in with a fastball that reaches 95 mph.
Chico has been, statistically, one of the better pitchers in the minor leagues this season. After a mid-season promotion to Class AA, he went 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts, never allowing more than three earned runs in an outing. Rizzo has compared Chico -- in build and demeanor -- to Atlanta Braves lefty Mike Hampton.
Both players will report to Class AA Harrisburg. Hernandez's departure means that the Nationals have only John Patterson, Shawn Hill and Mike O'Connor -- all on the disabled list -- as starters under contract for next season.
Nationals Notes: B owden said the right-handed Hill, out with an elbow injury, will visit renowned orthopedist James Andrews today in Birmingham. Bowden said of the nine Nationals' pitchers on the disabled list, he expects only O'Connor to return this season . . . Reliever Chris Schroder will be promoted from Class AAA New Orleans to fill Hernandez's spot on the roster.
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