In Need of a Center Piece, Nationals Contact Agents for Hunter, Rowand

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Washington Nationals, looking to improve in center field for 2008, have made preliminary contact with the agents for two of the premier center fielders on the market, Minnesota's Torii Hunter and Philadelphia's Aaron Rowand.

Though free agents can't officially negotiate with teams other than their current clubs until Nov. 13, the Nationals are sending out feelers on Hunter and Rowand in advance of the general managers' meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando.

Both Larry Reynolds, the agent for Hunter, and Craig Landis, who represents Rowand, played down the significance of calls this week from Washington General Manager Jim Bowden.

"You don't really know what interest means until the [free agency] period opens up," Reynolds said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Said Landis: "This is just the first step. The next step would be for him to call back and say they're very seriously interested."

Though the contact in no way means the Nationals are close to landing either player -- or even, for that matter, making an offer -- it reinforces the club's pledge to, as team president Stan Kasten said, "talk to everyone," even though he fundamentally considers signing expensive free agents the least effective way to build a team. Bowden could not be reached to comment on the contact.

Hunter, Rowand and Atlanta's Andruw Jones make center field the deepest position in a generally weak free agent class. Hunter, 32, is coming off a season in which he hit .287 and drove in a career-high 107 runs. In an interview last month with, Hunter said he would consider Washington because of the District's large African American population.

"I'd say he's open-minded," Reynolds said.

Rowand, 30, hit .309 with a career-high 27 homers and 89 RBI. The center fielder for the 2005 world champion Chicago White Sox, he has a reputation as a hard-nosed player and good clubhouse influence.

"With the new ballpark, [Washington] starts being more of a serious candidate where some players are going to want to play," Landis said. "It wasn't the most popular place up to now."

-- Barry Svrluga

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