Tracee Hamilton - Sports Columnist

At Deadline, Nationals Make Moves but Cause Little Stir

By Tracee Hamilton
Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Washington Nationals made not one but two moves Friday that are likely to make the final two months of the 2009 season even more painful to watch than the first four months were.

And they did absolutely the right thing.

The Nats sent reliever Joe Beimel to the Colorado Rockies for two minor league pitchers, then sent first baseman Nick Johnson to the Florida Marlins for a minor league pitcher.

Not too sexy, I admit. But smart.

Both Beimel and Johnson will be free agents after the 2009 season. Interim general manager Mike Rizzo decided to get something -- anything -- for them now, rather than losing both in free agency with little or no compensation.

Both also represent longevity on a club that's not, uh, long on it. Beimel, 32, was the lone member of the bullpen to have been on the Opening Day roster (which tells you all you need to know about the bullpen). Johnson, 30, was the final member on the 25-man roster that came to D.C. from Montreal in 2005. That means something to Nats diehards, who are likely to turn out Tuesday night to wish him luck when Florida comes to town.

Luck is already on his side. Johnson, who went from the worst team in baseball to a postseason contender at Friday's 4 p.m. deadline, probably reached the apex of his trade value at about 3:59. Despite an injury-shortened 2008 and a reputation for being a bit fragile, he's played in 98 of 102 games this season, and after a horrible June (.222 average, .340 on-base percentage and .344 slugging percentage), he posted much better numbers in July (.294, .423, .365).

Earlier in the week Johnson seemed destined to finish the season with the Nats. After the San Francisco Giants acquired Ryan Garko and the Boston Red Sox picked up Adam LaRoche (and then sent him to Atlanta), that was pretty much the end of potential trade partners. Until the Marlins came along.

The Nats needed to trade Johnson by the deadline. Otherwise, he'd have to pass through waivers before he could be dealt, and while his remaining $1.8 million salary might scare off a few teams, it likely wouldn't have scared off all 29. And who knows? He could return as a free agent in 2010, to bridge the gap until prospect Chris Marrero is ready for the majors. The Nats hope that will be in 2011.

Like Johnson, Beimel also would have had to clear waivers, and as a left-handed reliever with about $800,000 remaining on his salary, there was no chance he'd make it, and probably little chance the Nats could re-sign him in the offseason. And with a 1.86 ERA since June 1, he was just too attractive to pass up. He was a steadying influence on the mound and he'll likely be missed most by the bevy of young starters who live in dread of turning the game over to the pen.

And speaking of young starters . . .

What do both deals have in common? The Nats were on the hunt for starting pitching.

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