Nationals Inside Pitch: Doing More With Less

Though the Nationals came up short in their pursuit of several big-name free agents, interim general manager Jim Bowden is happy with the club he managed to assemble under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Inside Pitch

Bowden, hired by Major League Baseball on Nov. 2 to take over the former Montreal Expos franchise, was working under a strict $50 million budget. He tried to get in the running for free agent pitchers like Odalis Perez and Jaret Wright but ultimately could not afford those players as their asking prices rose.

In the end, Bowden settled for second-tier free agents, including right-hander Esteban Loaiza (one year, $2.9 million), shortstop Cristian Guzman (four years, $16.8 million) and third baseman Vinny Castilla (two years, $6.2 million). He also traded for former Angels outfielder Jose Guillen, who has had off-field problems before but could be a steal at $3.5 million this year.

"You know, with a $50 million budget, we knew we couldn't afford guys who made $15 million a year," Bowden said. "So we concentrated on guys we could afford that could fill our holes, and I think we did that."

Those acquisitions, along with the expected return of several injured players from a year ago (second baseman Jose Vidro, first baseman Nick Johnson and pitchers Tony Armas Jr., Tomo Ohka and Zach Day), has the Nationals believing they can be competitive in the tough NL East.

"I think we're improved," club president Tony Tavares said. "I think the entire division's improved, but if you talk to Jim or to any of the players, you'll see we're not frightened about that. We think we'll play with anybody in the division. We'll be highly competitive."

Notes, Quotes

  • Though the Nationals held some talks with the Chicago Cubs about RF Sammy Sosa, those talks never got beyond the preliminary stage. Washington GM Jim Bowden would have made a trade only if the Cubs took on Sosa's entire 2005 contract and Bowden did not have to part with his top prospects. Nationals OF Jose Guillen said he tried to convince Sosa personally to come to Washington, but Guillen's efforts went for naught.
  • Nationals GM Jim Bowden hasn't given up trying to lure SS Barry Larkin to Washington, but Larkin has all but decided to retire after 19 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds. It's still possible Larkin could join the Nationals in a front-office position.
  • The Nationals' first-ever game at RFK Stadium, an April 3 exhibition against the New York Mets, will start at 12:05 p.m., an hour earlier than previously announced. Tickets for the game, which will benefit the club's new charitable foundation, will likely go on sale in March.
  • By the numbers—18,000 -- Full season-ticket packages already sold by the Nationals. The club is about ready to start selling partial-season plans and individual-game tickets.
  • Quote to Note: "It felt like every time I'd turn on ESPN, I'd see something scroll across the bottom line about us signing another player. It was weird, but it was definitely cool to be able to see that we're going out and getting all those guys." -- RHP Chad Cordero, on all the offseason moves the Nationals made.
Roster Report

The offseason makeover from the Montreal Expos to the Washington Nationals appears to be complete. Interim general manager Jim Bowden signed free agent RHP Esteban Loaiza to a one-year deal, giving the Nationals the innings-eater they coveted for so long. Loaiza joins OF Jose Guillen, SS Cristian Guzman, 3B Vinny Castilla, RHP Antonio Osuna and 1B/OF Wil Cordero as major acquisitions for the new-look Washington franchise.

ARRIVALS: RHP Esteban Loaiza (free agent from Yankees), OF Jose Guillen (trade with Anaheim), SS Cristian Guzman (free agent from Minnesota), 3B Vinny Castilla (free agent from Colorado), RHP Antonio Osuna (free agent from San Diego), 1B/OF Wil Cordero (free agent from Florida), C Gary Bennett (free agent from Milwaukee), OF J.J. Davis (trade with Pittsburgh), OF Tyrell Godwin (Rule 5 draft from Toronto), IF Tony Blanco (Rule 5 draft from Cincinnati), OF Jeffrey Hammonds (minor-league free agent from San Francisco).

DEPARTURES: RF Juan Rivera and SS Maicer Izturis (traded to Anaheim), RHP Rocky Biddle (released), OF Valentino Pascucci (sold to Chibba Lotte of the Japan League), C Einar Diaz (free agent to St. Louis), 3B Tony Batista (free agent to Japan).


IN LIMBO: 1B Nick Johnson has been the subject of trade rumors.

MEDICAL WATCH: 2B Jose Vidro is rehabbing following late season knee surgery. 1B Nick Johnson is expected to be fully recovered from a broken cheekbone, which knocked him out for the final weeks of the season.

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