For Experience, Nats Add A. Boone

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007

NASHVILLE, Dec. 6 -- On their way to the airport Thursday, as they scattered across the country for a long weekend -- team president Stan Kasten to Atlanta, Manager Manny Acta home to Orlando, General Manager Jim Bowden off to visit family -- the Washington Nationals wrapped up baseball's winter meetings by adding infielder Aaron Boone as a veteran presence on their bench and in their clubhouse, the final touch on a week that transformed their roster.

Thus, anyone complaining about the stagnant nature of the meetings at the sprawling Opryland Resort here couldn't have been referring to the Nationals, who acquired outfielder Lastings Milledge before they arrived, traded for outfielder Elijah Dukes on the first day and then added a young pitcher (right-hander Tyler Clippard) and Boone before they departed.

"Knock on wood -- so far it's been a very nice offseason," Kasten said. "But we still have more to do."

The meetings featured but one colossal deal, the trade that sent stud third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis from Florida to Detroit for six prospects. Late Wednesday night, free agent center fielder Andruw Jones agreed to a two-year, $36.2 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the only significant signing over the four-day period.

But beyond that, if your team didn't wear hats bearing a curly "W", you didn't have much concrete to show for all the work. Left-hander Johan Santana remained a Minnesota Twin, and his group of suitors appeared to be flexible, even as the New York Mets rejoined a fray that had been dominated by Boston and the New York Yankees. The secondary market for top-flight pitchers hinged on where Santana went, if anywhere. Thus, Erik Bedard remained a Baltimore Oriole, Dan Haren remained an Oakland Athletic and the trade discussions will continue through the holidays.

The Nationals, too, will continue to be involved in such discussions, even as they made more moves here than any other team. Washington is still in the market for a catcher, and the names most frequently circulated this week -- Paul Lo Duca, Johnny Estrada and Damian Miller -- remained the most likely targets. Lo Duca is drawing interest from the Toronto Blue Jays, and his agent, Andrew Mongelluzzi, said late Wednesday that he is hopeful of drawing one or two more teams into the mix.

Washington officials were not optimistic that a trade for a catcher -- likely Arizona's Miguel Montero -- was feasible, though Bowden continued to say he preferred that route. The Nationals are interested in Lo Duca only for one year.

Though catching remains an issue, the Nationals did solve one problem by agreeing with Boone on a one-year, $1 million deal. He will receive a $50,000 bonus for playing in at least 60 games, with $50,000 bonuses for each 10-game increment thereafter -- 70 games, 80 games, up to 150 games. Thus, the deal would max out at $1.5 million if, for some reason, he played in more than 150 games.

Boone, 34, is a veteran of 10 major league seasons in which he is a .265 career hitter. In a part-time role with Florida in 2007, he hit .286 with a .388 on-base percentage in 69 games while playing first and third base. He battled a left knee problem and didn't play in the majors after June, eventually undergoing arthroscopic surgery in early September. The Nationals said he is healthy.

"He fits our plan," Acta said. "That's what we're trying to do with our bench. . . . He's very important for the leadership in our clubhouse."

Bowden also said leadership is the most important part of what Boone brings.

"I get asked that, it seems like every stop now," Boone said by phone. "I don't try to offer anything specific. I just try to be myself. If that helps, that's great. . . . I look at my job as getting myself prepared to be the best player I can be and being the best teammate I can be."

Boone is the son of Bob Boone, the Nationals' vice president of player development, and he played for Bowden when both were in Cincinnati. The only curious aspect to the signing arose because, earlier Thursday, the Nationals selected Matt Whitney in the Rule 5 draft. Whitney, 23, was once a top third base prospect in the Cleveland organization, though he suffered a broken leg that wiped out his 2003 season.

Should he make the major league club -- and the Nationals must keep him on the roster for the entire 2008 season if they want to keep him -- Whitney could be yet another backup for third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Last month, Zimmerman underwent surgery to remove the hook of hamate bone from his left wrist. A week later, he had a procedure to clear up a hematoma that resulted from the first procedure.

Bowden said selecting Whitney had nothing to do with Zimmerman's injury.

The club also took Garrett Guzman from Minnesota in the Rule 5 draft. The left-handed hitting outfielder, who hit .312 with 14 homers and 88 RBI in 125 games at Class AA last season, will compete with Ryan Langerhans for the fifth outfielder spot in spring training, Bowden said. He is more prepared to play at the major league level than Whitney, Bowden said.

As a final touch, the Nationals signed outfielder Wily Mo Pe¿a -- who was eligible for arbitration -- to an extension that could last two years. Pe¿a, who earned $1.875 million last season, will make $2 million in 2008. The club has a $5 million option for 2009; should the Nationals decline it, Pe¿a has a $2 million player option to return.

Langerhans, a solid defender who hit just .198 in 103 games for Washington in 2007, agreed to a split contract that will pay him $500,000 if he makes the major league club, $300,000 if he ends up in the minors.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company