The Washington Nationals, leading the National League East but last in baseball in runs scored, made a trade yesterday to try to produce more offense, acquiring outfielder Preston Wilson from the Colorado Rockies in a move that had been on the table for two weeks but wasn't completed until financial details were worked out last night.
Wilson, who will turn 31 next Tuesday, will almost certainly join the Nationals today in Milwaukee, where Washington begins a four-game series that officially starts the second half of the season -- the series that will give a first glimpse into whether the team, in its first year in Washington, can continue its unexpected success. The Nationals will also be joined by left-hander Mike Stanton, whom they signed yesterday after he cleared waivers. Stanton, a 17-year veteran, was cut by the New York Yankees two weeks ago.
In return for Wilson, the Nationals gave up right-hander Zach Day -- who started the second game in team history, but fell out of the rotation and then went on the disabled list -- as well as minor league outfielder J.J. Davis. The Nationals will pay $2 million of Wilson's $12.5 million salary this year. The Rockies also will receive a player to be named or cash. Wilson is a free agent at the end of the season.
"He knows he's playing for a contract," Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said by phone last night. "He knows to get that type of money, he's got to perform."
Bowden, who has pursued Wilson for months, has been adamant that the Nationals would target pitching prior to the July 31 trade deadline. Many times, when asked what he felt the club needed, he responded, "Pitching, pitching, pitching." He said last night that he wouldn't have given up Day -- a sinkerball specialist who went 1-2 with a 6.75 ERA for the Nationals before breaking a bone in his right wrist in May -- had he not seen another pitcher on the horizon. In this case, it was Stanton.
"Let's lay out what this deal is," Bowden said. "We protected all the organization's top prospects, and we traded a pitcher that I think is very good, but in reality, he had a 6.75 ERA for us, wasn't on the major league roster, and didn't look like he was going to help us win this year. And we signed another pitcher."
In Wilson, the Nationals get a flawed offensive player -- his 77 strikeouts are ninth in the National League -- who could provide more power to a lineup that desperately needs it. Wilson will play center field, which for now will move Brad Wilkerson to first base until Nick Johnson returns from a badly bruised heel bone that has kept him out since June 26. Wilkerson's impending move to first base could be an indication that Johnson's injury is more serious than originally thought.
"I can't put a timetable on his return," Bowden said. "With that kind of bone bruise, it's an individual thing. Everybody heals differently. No doctor can put a timetable on it. Nick has a history of healing slow, so it's up to how fast he heals."
The club's thinking is that when Johnson -- who is hitting .320 and was perhaps the club's most consistent hitter in the first half -- returns, Wilkerson will move to left field, and the platoon of rookie Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd will strengthen the bench.
"Preston Wilson is an above-average center fielder, and that's how this club wins -- pitching, speed and defense," Bowden said. "Hopefully, he can hit some three-run homers for us. He's going to strike out, and he's going to go 1 for 4 a lot. But hopefully, that 1 for 4 is with a three-run double or a home run. He's a guy who's a winning player, and he plays the game hard."
Bowden acknowledged that Wilson, who has hit .258 with 15 homers and 47 RBI this season, has been aided by playing at Colorado's Coors Field, where he has played home games since 2003. During that span, 34 of his 57 homers and 135 of his 217 RBI have come at Coors. The Nationals' home, RFK Stadium, has yielded fewer home runs this season than any other park.
Stanton, 38, will give the Nationals a 12-man pitching staff at a time when the bullpen looked overworked. He posted a 7.07 ERA in 28 appearances with the Yankees, for whom he was a key component of World Series teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bowden said the financial risk of signing Stanton is low; he'll earn the major league minimum of $316,000, prorated. Stanton, who held left-handed hitters to a .176 average this year but allowed right-handed batters to hit .478, will join Joey Eischen as the only lefties on the staff.
"He's not a one-batter-at-a-time guy," Bowden said. "He can come in and pitch a full inning for you. We'll see."
The Nationals also activated Church -- who had been out with a shoulder injury -- from the disabled list in time for today's game. They placed second baseman Junior Spivey (broken right radius) and infielder Tony Blanco (vertigo) on the 15-day disabled list, and moved infielder Henry Mateo, who has played in just one game for the Nationals this year, to the 60-day disabled list with nagging shoulder problems.