Nationals cut ties with pitchers Olsen, MacDougal

By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Facing the midnight Saturday deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players, the Washington Nationals decided to cut ties with Scott Olsen and Mike MacDougal, pitchers coming off near-opposite seasons.

By non-tendering Olsen and MacDougal -- the former a starter who never fulfilled his promise; the latter a closer who exceeded all expectations -- the Nationals trimmed two veterans from a pitching staff thin on experience. But they also spared themselves from committing several million dollars to a pair with injury concerns. Olsen is coming off shoulder surgery, and MacDougal is coming off hip surgery.

After announcing the decision Saturday evening, General Manager Mike Rizzo expressed interest in having both with the club in spring training on reduced contracts.

"We'll have discussions in that vein in getting them back with the Washington Nationals," Rizzo said, "but you never know. They'll be free to discuss with all 29 other clubs, but suffice to say I'd be very comfortable if they're wearing the Washington Nationals uniform next season."

The Nationals tendered contracts on Saturday to their five other arbitration-eligible players -- relievers Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett and Brian Bruney; catcher Wil Nieves; and outfielder Josh Willingham.

Olsen, acquired in a trade with Florida last November, was coming off an uneven performance (2-4, 6.03 ERA in 11 starts) and subsequent left labrum surgery. Though Olsen is fully rehabilitated from the surgery, his salary -- $2.8 million in 2009 -- necessitated this move. Had Olsen been tendered a contract, he would have made a comparable salary in 2010 via arbitration.

"He's still young, still has ceiling left, but labral surgeries and shoulder injuries are very tenuous situations," Rizzo said. "We're pretty sure he'll be full-go by spring training, but being a left-handed pitcher and having shoulder surgery was just too much of a gamble to tender to a contract."

MacDougal, in 2009, was actually one of the bright spots. His ascension into the closer's role stabilized the most problematic part of the ballclub. He had 20 saves in 21 opportunities, finishing with a 3.60 ERA. Still, MacDougal has a history of shaky control and inconsistency. He relies on one pitch, a fastball, and has a worrisome strikeout-to-walk ratio. Also, he finished the season on a down note, with a 9.53 ERA in September, and in early October he had arthroscopic surgery on his right hip.

In line for a salary of more than $3 million in 2010, the Nationals decided that MacDougal represented too much of a risk.

During the winter meetings last week, they acquired Bruney, a hard-throwing relief pitcher, from the Yankees. Bruney will be given a shot to handle the closer's duties in 2010.

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