Washington Nationals Acquire Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham in Trade With Florida Marlins

By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Washington Nationals have checked two items off their shopping list by plucking pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham from the salary-shedding Florida Marlins.

Though they enter arbitration, both players remain under club control for the next three seasons, an added bonus for Nationals brass, who hailed the trade for its potential long-term value.

The trade, however, forces the Nationals into a decision about how to handle its glut of outfielders.

"I'm always a fan of competition," General Manager Jim Bowden said yesterday, when the Nationals formally announced their two acquisitions. "When you have depth, you also have means to make other deals to make the team better in other areas."

The Nationals couldn't pass on the chance to bolster the rotation and add a power bat, both of which were priorities entering the offseason.

Washington parted ways with hitting-deficient second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and prospects Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean to nab Olsen, 24, and Willingham, 29, at what some observers regard as a discounted rate.

"We feel they are both coming into their own," Bowden said, as flat-screen televisions nearby showed a loop of highlights from both players. "Certainly, we know what we can expect from both of them."

But while Olsen's status in the rotation is clear, Willingham's presence creates a murky situation, with five outfielders on the roster for three starting spots. The right-handed-hitting Willingham joins Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Peña in Washington's full-house outfield.

Willingham, not known for his glove, has manned several positions during his pro career, including stints at catcher and first base. A move to first base would provide some relief to the Nationals in their outfield quandary and fill another position need. But both Bowden and Willingham seemed cool to the idea.

"We'll see what happens when spring training comes, but that's what I see myself doing, hitting in the middle lineup and playing every day," Willingham said. "I'm a left fielder as far as I know."

Willingham comes to town with the dreaded "when healthy" caveat attached to his luggage.

Back issues that lingered from late in the 2007 season cost Willingham 50 games last season. He hit 15 homers in 102 games last season, though both the Nationals and Willingham expect a return to form. He posted 20-plus homer seasons in 2006 and 2007.

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