Nationals Address First Order of Business, Sign Lee

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 19, 2007

Facing the reality of being without starting first baseman Nick Johnson for at least the first month of the 2007 season, the Washington Nationals yesterday signed slick-fielding journeyman Travis Lee to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training -- a move that highlighted a busy day of signings and roster moves for the team.

Lee, 31, joins prospect Larry Broadway, who has struggled in the Venezuelan winter league, and 2006 holdover Robert Fick among the candidates to hold down first base while Johnson recovers from September surgery to repair a broken femur. Originally expected back by Opening Day, Johnson's recovery has been slowed by scar tissue that limited his mobility and required additional surgery to break up.

"With Nick's injury, this gives us depth to go with Fick and Broadway," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said.

Lee owns the highest career fielding percentage for first basemen (.997), but never developed into the offensive star he was projected to be after being drafted with the second overall pick of the 1996 draft. He spent most of 2006 with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, batting .224 with 11 homers and 31 RBI in 343 at-bats, but was released in September.

The Nationals also announced the signings of 11 other players to minor league deals, including veteran infielders Tony Womack, Jose Macias and D'Angelo Jimenez, plus infielder Melvin Dorta and outfielder George Lombard, both of whom saw action for the team in 2006.

Yesterday's other signees were right-handed pitchers Jesus Colome and Anastacio Martinez, left-handed pitchers Luis Martinez and Arnaldo Muñoz, outfielder Abraham Nuñez and first baseman Jorge Toca. All will report to spring training camp in Viera, Fla., next month.

Of all the signees, Womack, 37, has the most extensive résumé, having spent 13 seasons in the majors and played in two World Series with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks and 2004 St. Louis Cardinals. He has big league experience at all three outfield positions, as well as at second base and shortstop, but he is a light-hitting speed specialist who failed to stick during stints with the Cubs and Reds last season.

Nationals Notes: The team announced the details of its Winter Caravan, which will make public appearances in the District, the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, plus Richmond and Virginia Beach, from Monday through Jan. 29. Manager Manny Acta will lead the contingent, which will include third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, pitcher Mike O'Connor and center fielder Nook Logan. . . .

To make room on its 40-man roster for recently signed pitcher Jerome Williams, the team outrighted utility player Tony Blanco to Class AAA Columbus. . . .

Tickets for Nationals spring training games in Viera, Fla., go on sale tomorrow at the team's Web site ( or by phone at (888) 632-6287.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company