By Adam Kilgore
Saturday, July 31, 2010; D03
The Washington Nationals traded their all-star closer for their catcher of the future late Thursday night, and they followed up Friday by trading Cristian Guzmán to the Texas Rangers for a pair of Class AA right-handed starting pitchers. Both deals may serve only as a prelude to their most momentous decision before Saturday's 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline: what to do with first baseman Adam Dunn, this year's premier prize.
After shipping Guzmán, the last remaining continuous Nationals player from the 2005 opening day roster, the Nationals remained intent on either signing Dunn to an extension or trading him. On Friday afternoon, shortly after Guzmán agreed to the Rangers trade, General Manager Mike Rizzo reiterated his vow to trade Dunn on his terms only.
"The closer to the deadline it gets, the more pressure is on the teams to come to me with something that makes sense for me to trade one of the best offensive players in baseball," Rizzo said. "I will come to the price where I originally said I'm going to go, or I won't trade him. The price won't come down."
"There's quite a bit of interest" in Dunn, Rizzo added. "Suffice to say, he's a very popular player right now."
Scouts from the Tampa Bay Rays and Tigers, two teams rumored to be interested in Dunn, were at Nationals Park on Friday night. By likely landing left-handed Lance Berkman in a trade with the Houston Astros, the New York Yankees probably eliminated themselves from the Dunn sweepstakes.
The Chicago White Sox also have interest in Dunn, and their trade Friday afternoon for Arizona Diamondbacks starter Edwin Jackson -- said to be a target of the Nationals -- sparked speculation the Sox would flip Jackson to Washington for Dunn. Dunn, for his part, said "I haven't heard anything" about either a trade or a contract extension.
Asked to guess the chances he's a National when he wakes up Sunday morning, Dunn said: "50-50. Maybe 51-49. I really don't know."
"I don't know. You pick."
Dunn clarified several meaningful details. He would not mind serving as a designated hitter if traded to an American League team. "It's only two months," he said. "It's not like if I make this move, it's career-ending."
Dunn declined to speculate as to whether he would be willing to sign with the Nationals this offseason should he get traded and then declare for free agency. "I don't know," Dunn said. "I've got to get traded first. We're still trying to work things out here."
The Nationals have already altered their roster.
They will receive Class AA right-handed starters Ryan Tatusko, 25, and Tanner Roark, 23, from the Rangers in exchange for Guzmán. "Two young, good AA prospects that will help our inventory," Rizzo said.
Guzmán, in the second year of a two-year, $16 million contract, is hitting .282 with a .327 on-base percentage, a .361 slugging percentage and two home runs. The Rangers acquired him to fill the vacancy created when Ian Kinsler went on the disabled list.
Guzmán left the Nationals with "some sadness," his agent, Stanley King, said. But Guzmán, because he has played more than 10 seasons overall and five with the Nationals, had to approve the trade.
"It has seemed like the team has been moving in a different direction for the past year or so," King said. "Cristian will go somewhere he feels more wanted. He hopes he can help win a title and end up on top of a pile" in celebration.
Wilson Ramos, the Class AAA catcher the Nationals received in exchange for Matt Capps, will be "at least" a September call-up, Rizzo said. "We feel like he's major league-ready." The Nationals and Twins had been discussing a Capps trade for sometime, and it progressed rapidly once Ramos became involved.
Despite Ramos's substandard stats at Class AAA, Nationals scouts like the power potential of Ramos's swing and his pitch selection at the plate.
"We feel like we got ourselves an immediate everyday catcher in the major leagues," Rizzo said. "Those are very hard to come by. To trade a good, solid reliever for a 22-year-old, everyday, major league-ready catcher, we thought that was a deal that we had to make."
Ramos will likely start next season alongside Iván Rodríguez as the Nationals' two catchers. "When I was young," Ramos said in a conference call, "he was my favorite player."
As Ramos begins his career with the Nationals -- he'll start with Class AAA Syracuse -- Dunn's tenure here may be coming to an end. Dunn wanted to sign a contract extension during spring training, to avoid precisely what he is enduring in the final hours before the deadline.
"I would say frustrated more than disappointed," Dunn said. "I know it's the business side of it. But I really did expect to get something done and at least make a little progress. Just hasn't worked out that way. It's no fault for anyone. It's how it goes, man."
For now, like most everyone in baseball, Dunn is guessing. He was asked if he believes the point where he and the Nationals could reach a deal before the trade deadline has passed.
"I don't know," Dunn said. "Do you?"