Belliard Signs Extension

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 24, 2007

At a time when much of the baseball world expected the Washington Nationals to be selling off their veteran pieces, the club's first move in the week leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline was to keep a player. Veteran infielder Ronnie Belliard signed a two-year, $3.5 million extension with the club yesterday, a move that seemingly took the versatile player off the trade market and made him part of a Nationals' future that they expect to be much brighter.

"I'm surprised," Belliard said by phone last night from Philadelphia, where the Nationals will begin a three-game series tonight. "But when it came out that there was a chance to stay here, I liked it. I appreciate the fans. And these young guys, they want to have a good team. Probably next year, things will be better."

That, then, was the message the Nationals were trying to send yesterday.

"We're trying to build," General Manager Jim Bowden said, "not tear down."

Belliard, who is making $850,000 this season, will earn $1.6 million in 2008 and $1.9 million in 2009, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. He is hitting .305 in 85 games and -- with an injury to Cristian Guzman -- is the everyday second baseman.

"We like him as a bench player," Bowden said, "and we like him as an everyday player."

Belliard, 32, was presumed by scouts and executives reached earlier in the day to be trade bait. The Nationals' inventory of movable parts is well-known throughout baseball. For the right price, a contending team could have relievers Jon Rauch or Chad Cordero, outfielder Ryan Church or first baseman Dmitri Young.

That doesn't mean the Nationals are guaranteed to make a trade. A year ago, Bowden held the most marketable commodity in baseball, outfielder Alfonso Soriano. But when Bowden didn't like the offers he received, the club kept Soriano. That has officials from other teams wondering if the Nationals, in a market in which the majority of teams are wary of parting with elite prospects, will complete any deals.

"They didn't move Soriano," one scout said yesterday. "They could hold on to these guys, too."

Asked yesterday if Belliard was effectively off the trade market, Bowden said: "I don't know what that means. Every player in our entire organization is on the trade market, if that's what you want to call it."

Washington could pursue proven major league players in an effort to hasten the rebuilding process. Cincinnati outfielder Adam Dunn has long been a Bowden favorite, and reported yesterday that the Nationals were pursuing him.

Bowden declined to talk about Dunn. Team president Stan Kasten declined to discuss the team's position in the market. Cincinnati is one of several clubs -- including San Diego, Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs -- that have scouted the Nationals' Class A Potomac affiliate recently. Club officials believe there is no greater need than a 30-homer, 100-RBI hitter. The Nationals are last in the majors in runs and homers.

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