At this time last year, Brad Wilkerson became affectionately known as the "Last Expo," because a postseason all-star tour of Japan left him as the final man to wear the uniform of the Montreal Expos. He might have been known, too, as the "First National," because he took the first at-bat in team history, back in April at Philadelphia, and he led the team to its first victory by hitting for the cycle two days later.
So even as Wilkerson's name rumbled through trade rumors since season's end, there was only one way the 28-year-old could react when he heard the news that he had been dealt to the Texas Rangers late Wednesday night.
"Off the top of my head," Wilkerson said yesterday, "I'm just in a little shock."
Wilkerson was selected by Montreal out of the University of Florida with the 33rd pick in the 1998 draft. He made his major league debut in 2001, and was a regular the following year. Some in the organization were hopeful he would bud into an outright star with the Nationals, who moved from Montreal for the 2005 season.
But his trade -- along with outfielder Terrmel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga -- for the Rangers' Alfonso Soriano ensures that if Wilkerson indeed becomes a star, it will be someplace other than Washington.
"I've been in this organization, the Montreal/Nationals organization, from the onset of it," Wilkerson said by phone. "It's just a shock that I'm not going to be with the same organization, the same people I've been around my whole career. That's going to be different."
Wilkerson, who can play all three outfield positions as well as first base, is valued both for his versatility and his career on-base percentage of .365. Because the Nationals needed both power in the lineup and starting pitching, and Wilkerson was likely their most marketable commodity, he said he had mentally tried to prepare himself for a trade.
"You never know what's going to happen with these things," he said. "One night it's one thing, the next night it's another thing. I really didn't know how to go with it. The surprising thing to me: I thought it was going to be a pitcher. To see who I was traded for, and who we got back, that was surprising."
Still, he feels like Texas, with a ballpark that yields homers at a rapid rate, might be a good place to land -- if he stays there. Rumors remain that Toronto, which covets Wilkerson, might continue to make a play for him.
"I think it's a very positive situation for me," he said. "I know a few of the guys there, playing with them and against them, and it's definitely a great ballpark to hit in. It's going to be a step forward in that direction compared to RFK. Hopefully, I get in there healthy and have a couple of great years."
Nationals Notes: The Nationals declined to offer arbitration to outfielder Preston Wilson and infielder Carlos Baerga, officially cutting ties with both. But they did offer arbitration to left-handed reliever Joey Eischen and right-hander Tony Armas Jr. Both are likely to be signed -- Eischen to a one-year deal worth around $1.1-1.2 million, and Armas to an incentive-laden deal that allows him to work his way back from shoulder surgery.