Nationals reach agreements with Jerry Hairston Jr., Todd Coffey

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 12:50 AM

The Washington Nationals reached one-year agreements with utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. and right-handed reliever Todd Coffey, adding perhaps the final two additions of their offseason likely to contribute to the 2011 roster and bolstering their bullpen and their bench.

Hairston's deal is worth $2 million and could be worth $3 million with incentives, as first reported by Hairston, 34, hit .244/.299/.353 (average/on-base/slugging) with 10 home runs in 476 plate appearances for the San Diego Padres last year. He played mostly shortstop and second base and also appeared in left field, right field and at third base.

Hairston's skills align with the Nationals' needs. "A live-bodied, athletic player," General Manager Mike Rizzo called him. Primarily, he can be a reliable veteran who can back up second baseman Danny Espinosa, a rookie who underwent minor hand surgery this offseason.

Hairston could play a number of other roles, Rizzo said, including possibly playing center field against tough left-handed starters in place of Nyjer Morgan. Rizzo cited Hairston's "clubhouse presence" as a reason for his signing, a common refrain.

"I think every move we've made since I've been here, that has come into the equation," Rizzo said. "I've been around long enough and been around championship-caliber teams long enough to know that makeup takes you a long way."

Hairston's addition, two days after the Nationals signed Alex Cora to a minor league contract, seemingly changes backup infielder Alberto Gonzalez's situation. The Nationals want bench players willing to accept their role, and Gonzalez showed signs of dissatisfaction with limited playing time last year. Gonzalez has been a more productive player than Cora, but if the Nationals feel comfortable with Cora, Gonzalez could be a candidate to be traded.

The Nationals added Coffey, a right-hander known for a nasty slider and his comically intense sprints from the bullpen to the mound, to one of the best bullpens in the league. After Coffey went 2-4 this season with a 4.76 ERA, striking out 56 and walking 23 in 621/3 innings, the Milwaukee Brewers did not tender him a contract, which made Coffey a free agent.

The Nationals targeted Coffey, in part, because they wanted to add more experience to their bullpen - among Nationals relievers only Doug Slaten, 31, is in his 30s.

Adding Coffey, 30, will give the Nationals another possibility at closer and create competition. Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett, Slaten, Coffey and Henry Rodriguez, the flame-thrower whom the Nationals acquired when they traded Josh Willingham to the A's, are likely to claim six of seven relief spots.

Collin Balester seemingly has the edge for the last spot after his emergence late last season, but he has an option remaining, and there's also Rule 5 pick Elvin Ramirez, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano and others, including maybe Ross Detwiler and Yunesky Maya if they do not make the rotation and the Nationals prefer a long reliever.

Gorzelanny trade official

The Nationals made official their trade for left-handed starter Tom Gorzelanny, whom they acquired from the Chicago Cubs for three prospects: outfielder Michael Burgess and relievers A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks.

Gorzelanny gives the Nationals eight potential starters for five spots: Livan Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Jason Marquis, Maya, Detwiler and Chien-Ming Wang.

"We're going to have a good competition there," Rizzo said. "And we're looking forward to it."

Gorzelanny is part of the competition but seems almost certain to win a spot. Rizzo said he would not be considered as a reliever. The extra depth was not necessarily a response to missing out on a frontline starter.

"We certainly tried" to attain a frontline starter, Rizzo said. "Whether we got a No. 1 starter or not, we felt [trading for Gorzelanny] was a solid deal for us. We think there's still some upside to this guy. We think he's going to have a big rebound year."

Rizzo said Wang is currently working out in Arizona and throwing off a mound. He expects Wang to come to spring training ready and healthy. "He's not in rehabilitation mode right now," Rizzo said. "He's in preparation mode to get ready for spring training."

Martin is released

The flurry of recent additions gave the Nationals an overcrowded 40-man roster, and they began thinning it by unconditionally releasing J.D. Martin, who had spent the last two seasons in the Nationals organization, partly with Class AAA Syracuse. Martin, who underwent back surgery late in the season, went 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA in 24 major league starts.

The Nationals dropped Martin because Adam LaRoche's contract was made official by MLB. As the contracts of Gorzelanny, Coffey and Hairston become approved, they will have to shed three more players from their 40-man roster.

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