By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
With this afternoon's non-waiver trade deadline approaching, the Washington Nationals were still involved in discussions involving relievers Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch yesterday, according to industry sources, but even internally there appeared to be little consensus about whether a trade -- or more than one -- would happen.
The pack of scouts following the Nationals over the past week has been relatively small, with the Detroit Tigers joined over the weekend by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the New York Mets also interested.
All three clubs have championship aspirations and are in need of bullpen help. Two key relievers for the Tigers, Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, are on the disabled list, and Detroit has been interested in Rauch and Cordero for some time, though the asking price has always been deemed too high. The Dodgers have injuries in the rotation that have made Chad Billingsley, Mark Hendrickson and Brett Tomko starters, so they are searching for help anywhere on their staff. The Mets also are looking for relief help, and General Manager Omar Minaya drafted Cordero and traded for Rauch when he was the GM of the Montreal Expos.
That pair of relievers, then, are clearly the Nationals' most attractive commodities, particularly with veteran hitters Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young having signed contracts with Washington through 2009. The Nationals had been involved in discussions with the Atlanta Braves about Young within the past three weeks, but the $10 million extension -- and the Braves' apparent acquisition of Texas first baseman Mark Teixeira yesterday -- mean those conversations are over.
General Manager Jim Bowden did not return messages yesterday. Still, one Nationals insider said yesterday he expected the club would make at least one deal, and that Rauch was the most likely to go because it is easier to find a trading partner for him. Would the Nationals, who have been reported to be interested in Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Dunn, want major league players in return, or prospects?
"Prospects, absolutely," one person familiar with the Nationals' thinking said. Still, the Nationals' recent unpredictability in such situations -- holding on to Alfonso Soriano last year, extending both Belliard and Young this year -- makes speaking in absolutes dangerous.
The Dodgers, who were involved in the Nationals' deadline talks for Soriano last year, have a farm system full of talented position players, and though it might be a stretch to land slugger Matt Kemp, hitting .341 in the majors this year, at least some Washington executives like a pair of minor league middle infielders -- Chin-Lung Hu, the MVP of the Futures Game who is hitting .390 in 14 games since being promoted to Class AAA Las Vegas; and Ivan De Jesus, the son of the former big leaguer by the same name who's hitting .297 in high-Class A ball. Outfielder Delwyn Young, hitting .348 with 79 RBI in 400 at-bats for Las Vegas, could be another target.
Would teams give up prospects like that for Rauch? The 6-foot-11 right-hander leads the majors in appearances with 56 and the National League in wins by a reliever with seven. He has a 3.72 ERA and no pitcher has made more than his 141 appearances the past two years, proving his durability.
Rauch is an eighth-inning pitcher on the Nationals, but on another club -- the Dodgers, for instance -- he could move to the seventh. Los Angeles has Jonathan Broxton setting up Takashi Saito, and the club is 46-3 when leading after seven innings.
Because of Rauch's performance over the past two years, Bowden has apparently asked for high-end prospects -- Detroit Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin, who is all but untouchable, was once mentioned -- in exchange.
The problem with trading Cordero, according to sources inside and outside the Nationals, remains how he is viewed by the two sides. Since 2005, when Cordero led the NL with 47 saves, only two NL players -- San Diego's Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner of the New York Mets -- have more saves than Cordero's 97, and he has posted those numbers on a last-place club.
Still, very few contending teams need a closer. Cordero, then, likely would be needed as a setup man, and for weeks executives have speculated that the difference in roles -- one man's closer as another man's setup guy -- would make it difficult for the Nationals to find a good fit.
So there remains a chance that, even with the deadline looming, the Nationals won't make a deal. Not everyone thinks that would be foolish.
"You have to look at yourself as in the driver's seat in that situation, not see it as, 'Oh, God, here's our chance,' " one Nationals' observer said. "Here's your chance for what? If you trade a Rauch or Cordero this year, you might have to go out and get those types of players as soon as next year or the year after. Who's to say you're going to get guys as good?"
After 4 p.m. today, players must clear waivers to be traded. Team president Stan Kasten, who declined to comment yesterday, reminded reporters over the weekend that the club could still make deals after Aug. 1, as it did last year by dealing pitcher Livan Hernandez and infielders Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward. But players with relatively inexpensive contracts -- Cordero is earning $4.15 million this year, Rauch $455,000 -- who are still at least two seasons away from free agency are unlikely to clear.
Nationals Note: Right-hander Shawn Hill, who hasn't pitched in the majors since May 11 because of an injury to his left shoulder that led to problems in his right elbow, made his first rehabilitation start last night for Class A Potomac. With Nationals Manager Manny Acta in attendance, Hill threw 39 pitches in three scoreless innings, allowing three singles, walking none and striking out three against Wilmington.