Willingham Avoids Arbitration on Final Day

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 18 -- The Washington Nationals signed outfielder Josh Willingham on Wednesday to a one-year, $2.95 million deal, plus up to $100,000 in incentives.

The agreement allowed Willingham, whose hearing had been slated for Wednesday afternoon, to avoid arbitration. The outfielder said he expected to fly back from Phoenix -- site of all arbitration hearings -- Wednesday night, and he will be with the team Thursday for the first full-squad workout.

"Well, I think both parties are excited about getting it done," Willingham said. "I didn't want to take it back all the way to trial."

Had the case gone to a hearing, Willingham would have earned either $3.6 million (his offer) or $2.55 million (the team's offer). But several one-year deals in recent days, including the one-year, $3.1 million deal the Los Angeles Dodgers reached Tuesday with Andre Ethier, gave both sides a framework.

Willingham's case had been complicated, because his numbers from 2008 were limited by a back injury. In 2008, while with the Florida Marlins, Willingham played in 102 games, hitting .254 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI. For his career, Willingham has a .266 average, a .361 on-base percentage and a .472 slugging percentage.

This was the first year in which Willingham was arbitration-eligible -- a part of the reason Florida was willing to trade the 30-year-old to Washington in November. Last season, Willingham earned $405,000.

With Willingham's case resolved, the Nationals have now reached one-year contracts with two of their four arbitration-eligible players. Washington went all the way to a hearing with Shawn Hill, but signed Scott Olsen to a one-year, $2.8 million deal on Feb. 8. The case involving Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' final arbitration-eligible player, is scheduled for Friday. Washington has until then to work out a deal and avoid a hearing.

Proud Papa

Pitcher Daniel Cabrera has rejoined the team after traveling to the Dominican Republic, where his wife gave birth to a son, Daniel, Tuesday. Wednesday, Cabrera had a bullpen session. Also, a big smile. . . .

Adam Dunn and friends took some light batting practice Wednesday. And it was very light. One fan spotted Dunn -- shades down, hair matted up into a blond 'fro -- and shouted, "Hit one onto I-95." But Dunn had other things in mind: just a few easy swings to warm up the muscles. He even bunted.

Fireworks to come later, evidently.

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