By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007
NEW YORK, July 28 -- The Washington Nationals announced the signing of first baseman Dmitri Young, the team's lone all-star, to a $10-million, two-year contract extension on Saturday. The move reinforces Young's remarkable turnaround, removes a possible trade chip as the deadline looms and raises the potential to reshape the Nationals' projected 2008 lineup.
Nationals President Stan Kasten called the move "an easy decision." It came days after the Nationals signed Ronnie Belliard to a contract extension. In tandem, Kasten said, the moves don't represent a sea change from decreasing payroll to building, but rather seizing a chance to lock up two solid players.
"The one thing I think we should be consistent about is that we are opportunistic," Kasten said. "If there is an opportunity to add a player, then we'll take it. It really is coincidental that the thing with Ronnie and Dmitri happened in the same week under similar circumstances."
When the Nationals signed Young this offseason for $500,000, they expected to use him as insurance and to fill in for Nick Johnson until he returned from the broken leg he suffered last season. But Young has excelled and Johnson's rehab, which Manager Manny Acta expected to end in June at the season's outset, has stalled.
Signing Young could be read as a sign the Nationals don't expect Johnson to return next season, but Acta squashed that notion. "There is no doubt it my mind," Acta said. "Nick is going to be back at the level of Nick Johnson."
Instead, Young could move to the outfield. He has actually played more games in the outfield (485) than at first base (363), but he hasn't played the outfield since 2005. Asked whether he would play outfield or come off the bench, Young grinned and said, "I'll play outfield."
As for Johnson returning this season, the largest obstacle will be the close of the minor league season. If Johnson can't heal enough for a rehab assignment, he likely won't play this season.
"I really, really don't want to put Nick out there just for the sake of putting him out there so he can say he did play in 2007," Acta said. "If he doesn't have enough at-bats in some type of rehab assignment and he's not ready to play somewhat at this level up here, we're just going to shut him down."