By Dave Sheinin and Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 15, 2007
VIERA, Fla., Feb. 14 -- On the day before their pitchers and catchers held their first workout, the Washington Nationals added two more low-risk bargains to the fold, signing one-time sluggers Dmitri Young and Tony Batista to minor league contracts. Neither has been invited to the team's major league camp, but will be within eyeshot at the team's minor league complex a few hundred yards away.
Even for a team that has limited its offseason shopping to the unwanted, the inexpensive and the injured, the signings of Young and Batista represent another level of reclamation project, as both were out of baseball for significant portions of last season-- Young because he underwent drug and alcohol rehabilitation while in the Detroit Tigers organization, and Batista because he failed to land another job after being released by the Minnesota Twins in June.
"It's important when you're trying to rebuild that you have assets to trade," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said, playing down the potential impact of the signings on the team's roster. "They understand whether it's June, July, August -- we're going to look at them. But . . . we need to focus on the guys in big league camp."
Still, both players present intriguing possibilities, particularly Young, a 33-year-old first baseman-outfielder who could provide additional insurance in the event starting first baseman Nick Johnson misses substantial playing time as he recovers from a broken femur suffered last September.
In 48 games with the Tigers last season, Young hit .250 with seven homers and 23 RBI, but was released in September, just before the Tigers' run to the World Series.
His year also included a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence stemming from an incident with his girlfriend in May, in addition to his battles with addiction.
"He comes in knowing the organization has zero tolerance on any incident that takes place," Bowden said. "If it does happen, he'll be released. . . . Dmitri is a good kid. He's made some bad mistakes. He wants a second chance. We're going to give that to him."
Young, who is expected to report to Viera on Feb. 20, joins prospect Larry Broadway -- who Bowden said "gets the first shot" -- and veteran signees Travis Lee and Robert Fick as candidates to hold down the first base job while Johnson recovers, which could take until May.
Batista, a 33-year-old third baseman and two-time all-star, has a lesser shot at making the roster since third base is occupied by second-year star Ryan Zimmerman. However, Nationals Manager Manny Acta said Batista could also fill in at first base.
Acta was the third base coach for the 2004 Montreal Expos when Batista hit 32 homers and drove in 110 runs for the team in his last full big league season.
He spent the 2005 season in Japan before signing with the Twins. However, the Twins released him after only 50 games and he failed to latch onto another organization.Cordero Negotiations
Bowden said he will meet with closer Chad Cordero and his agent, Larry Reynolds, on Thursday in a final effort to avoid an arbitration hearing with the 24-year-old. Cordero has asked for $4.15 million, and the club is offering $3.65 million.
"Our preference is always to settle," Bowden said. "We're going to try one more time in person to do it and hopefully it will work out, and if not, if we have to go through the process again, we'll do that."
Cordero, who has a career ERA of 2.61 with 91 saves in 106 opportunities, said this week that he would like to sign a long-term deal with the Nationals. Bowden declined Wednesday to say whether the team would be willing to negotiate something with Cordero, saying only, "We would always have interest in signing our core players." . . .
Reliever Jon Rauch had his first child -- Aubree Elizabeth -- in December, and he arrived at spring training with a tattoo of his daughter's feet on his right calf. "We were all ready and prepared," Rauch said, "and then she came, and you're not prepared for any of it." . . .
Nationals' coaches are due at Space Coast Stadium on Thursday at 7:30 a.m., and by 8:55 all the players must be dressed. At 9, Acta will address the pitchers and catchers for the first time -- his first speech as a major league manager.