Nationals Make Trade, Upgrade

It’s about 13 days since the end of the World Series, and baseball is back. Yesterday, the Nats made a trade. It wasn’t a Matt Holliday type deal, but it was still a major league level deal. They gave up 1 major leaguer – Emilio Bonifacio, plus Jake Smolinski and PJ Dean for Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen.

Nats Get

Willingham is a good hitter. He isn’t a real power bat for an outfielder, but he gets on base alot. His career splits of .266/.361/.472 give you a pretty good idea of what you’re getting. An ISO over .200 (bottom of the good range) plus a high OBP. His career OPS+ is 117 is reliant on that high OBP, and that is something that won’t fluctuate much. He can also play mulitple positions. He is mostly a LFer, but has also played 1B and even some C at the major league level. His downside is that he is 29, so he’s not exactly the future of the franchise. But if I’m not mistaken, the Nats can control him for two more years. So not only is he a very good player who adds to this woeful offense, but this means they’ll have ample opportunity to trade him if they want. He is just the kind of player that moves at the deadline, especially when a contendor loses an OF or a 1B.

Olsen is a 24 year old lefty starter, and behind Ricky Nolasco, was the second best starter on the Marlins last year. Other guys may be more talented and pitched better, but nobody else as good got more than 15 starts. Olsen, on the other hand, started 33 games (3rd year in a row with at least 31), and finished with a league average ERA. He is probably not a future superstar, but he does knock Jack McGeary off my list of Nats in 2013, if I were compiling it today instead of yesterday. According to Keith Law, his velocity dropped last season, but showed signs of life again by September. He also gave up 30 HRs. But he still had a league average ERA, and while he may never be the lefty power pitcher he was once touted as, if his velocity did indeed come back, he has a chance to be very good.

Nats Give

Emilio Bonifacio is the big loss here. His speed is legendary, and that will be missed. But no writer I know of, from ESPN to Scouts, Inc to Baseball Propsectus, think he has a major league bat. And his fielding is above avereage but not great. So its not like his glove was going to carry him playing full time over a poor bat. No power with low OBP, it’s not a good combo. He has the opportunity to really be a speedy/off the bench utility type. While this is nice, it isn’t an impact player.

They also gave up two minor leaguers – probably one you heard of and one you haven’t. Jake Smolinski is the more well known player, only because he was drafted 2 years ago, and he is talented. He is an outfielder who can really hit for average, and he’s still young. He probably doesn’t have the power to be a major league talent there, although if he can consistantly hit .325 in the majors i might change my mind. That power could still develop, as he is just turning 20, but if it doesn’t this won’t be a big loss. Right now he only can play LF, and that is the position where the bat matters the most. Experiments in the infield haven’t seemed to work. The other player is PJ Dean, and he is not a highly touted prospect. He had a very good year, ableit with only 10 appearances, in low-A ball this year. Keith Law says he doesn’t have enough velocity and is far away from being a major leaguer if that ever happens.

Impact

Willingham shuffles the lineup around a bit. With this squad he may end up hitting 5th, behind Zimmerman and Dukes, depending on whether or not Nick Johnson is healthy. In terms of position, well if the On Base Machine is healthy, then he’ll be at first and Willingham will probably play left field, shifting Dukes to right. This of course, would put Austin Kearns on the bench, but he hasn’t earned a starting spot in the last 2 seasons. If Johnson is hurt, or several days a week even if Johnson is ok, Willingham can probably play first. Having him do backup catcher duties on off days is probably a stretch, but he can be the emergency guy. Olson will head into the 2009 season vying with John Lannan to be the team’s best starter, which shows what level he’s on, and how much this pitching staff needs help.

On the other side, the team gave up very little. The only player I’d think twice about giving up is Smolinski, because he still has time to develop. But these three could probably be considered a fair trade for EITHER of these players – to get both is a steal. The loss of Bonifacio brings the 2B competition down to two players – Hernandez and Belliard. I still think Belliard is their most tradable player, so may get a good deal of playing time before the trade deadline. But after impressing at the end of last season, Hernandez looks to be their starter of the future, for now. Imagine if he ends up being good – Milledge, Flores and Hernandez – all ex-Mets, as starters? I am not sure he’ll end up being more than a moderate 2B, but we’ll see.

All in all, it’s a very good move for the Nats. I look forward to see Thrillingham out there every day. I also hope that Scott “Don’t call me Gregg Olson” Olsen can throw in the mid-90s again, because then this would be a ridiculously great trade.

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