It looks like Joe Maddon was wrong.
Back in July, as you surely recall, Davey Johnson and Maddon, the Rays’ manager, entered into an imbroglio over the pine tar on reliever Joel Peralta’s glove. Johnson called him on it; Peralta was ejected and eventually suspended; Maddon replied by calling Johnson names and, a day later, saying the behavior would prevent the Nationals from attracting players in free agency.
The Grumpy Old Managers dust-up, of course, has had no impact on the Nationals’ pursuit of talent this winter – even when it comes down to another of Maddon’s relievers.
The Nationals have honed in on J.P. Howell as their preferred lefty to replace Sean Burnett, who agreed to a two-deal with the Angels this week. Howell spent seven seasons with the Rays. In an interview last night, Howell reiterated the interest in the Nationals he shared with MLB.com earlier this week. Johnson was not a reason to be weary of the Nationals for Howell, but a reason to embrace them.
“I love how he says, ‘World Series or bust,’ ” said Howell, who pitched for Johnson in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. “That’s a great quote. I love to play like that. That’s just how I like to play. That’s what’s expected.”
When reminded of the Johnson-Maddon brouhaha, Howell chuckled a bit and said it wouldn’t keep him from signing with the Nationals, even if it rubbed him the wrong way at the time.
“When I was on the Tampa Bay side, of course it did,” Howell said. “If I’m on the Washington side, that’s just doing everything he can to get a win. If I’m on the Nationals’ side of that, I’m not too bitter. That’s fair game. If you want to call a guy out, you call a guy out. It got them a win. I’m on the same side – try to do everything I can to get a win. It was a manager playing his part saying, ‘We need this win tonight.’ ”
Howell, 29, has established himself as a solid left-hander who, in a pinch, could even close games – he racked up 13 saves in 2009. He throws in the mid-80s, but his movement allows him to face both left-handers and right-handers. Last season, he punched up a 3.04 ERA in 50 1/3 innings.
The Nationals would like to add at least one lefty after losing Burnett in free agency. Tom Gorzelanny, whom the Nationals non-tendered last week, remains a possibility. But the Nationals seem to prefer Howell.
Howell said he has not received any hard offers to consider from his agent, and he’s mostly watching the process play out for now. So, nothing appears imminent. But if the Nationals did give him a deal to think about, he would be more than intrigued.
“If they have any interest in me, it’s a true compliment,” Howell said. “They were the team I was rooting for in the playoffs. I love the way the Nationals go about their business. I love the interview Jayson Werth had after the game he hit the walkoff home run. If I had to make a guess, they’re the team to beat.”