In Today's Market, Even Ohka May Be Beyond Nats

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006

In a normal offseason for a normal major league baseball team, the Washington Nationals' offer of a contract to free agent pitcher Tomo Ohka would make perfect sense.

The Nationals are in desperate need of starting pitchers, and Ohka is a familiar commodity, having pitched for the Montreal/Washington franchise from 2001 to '05 before he was traded to Milwaukee.

But this is not a normal offseason for a normal franchise, and in a market in which ordinary pitchers are raking in extraordinary amounts of money, the Nationals and Ohka -- despite mutual interest -- appear to be a poor fit.

"Their offer is below market value," said Jim Masteralexis, Ohka's agent. "They know that, and we know that. There's no animosity in the situation. That's just the way it is.

"I think Washington has an exciting future, and we'll continue to talk to them, but with the market for pitching the way it is, we're not even close to a deal."

Masteralexis declined to identify Washington's offer, but it's believed Ohka is seeking a three-year contract.

The Nationals, it could be argued, have no proven starting pitchers in the fold for 2007. John Patterson is their supposed ace, but he made just eight starts last season because of injuries. He has never won more than nine games in a season.

That would seem to make Ohka, who is 48-58 with a 4.04 ERA in his career, a logical target for Washington. The 30-year-old clashed with former manager Frank Robinson, but Masteralexis said he likes the idea of returning to the Nationals, who have retained pitching coach Randy St. Claire.

The signing of a free agent pitcher in this market would run directly against the Nationals' stated plan, which involves building from within and not fishing for free agents unless and until such players could help them compete for a championship.

Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden admitted the team has made an offer to a pitcher, but he quietly understands the reality of the situation -- that there likely will be very few pitchers the Nationals believe to be bargains.

"If the market fluctuates back to us, we'll participate," Bowden said during the just-completed winter meetings. That, though, isn't likely to happen until January, if at all."

"In this market, I believe good things come to those who wait," said Masteralexis, who added he believes seven teams are seriously interested in Ohka.

In other news, Washington didn't appear closer to trading outfielder Ryan Church yesterday. Bowden believes they will make some sort of move within the next week, whether it involves Church or not.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company