Trade Analysis: Olsen and Willingham

The Nationals figured to be busy this off-season, as did the Florida Marlins. With that in mind, it probably shouldn't be a huge surprise that the two teams hooked up on a five-player deal. So, does the deal help the Nationals?

Anytime you can acquire a quality, left-handed starter, it's good news. Scott Olsen fits the bill on all of those fronts, having thrown 201 2/3 innings in 2008 and posting a 4.20 ERA with the Florida Marlins. In addition to Olsen, the Nationals also added a nice, potentially middle-of-the-order bat in Josh Willingham all in the same deal.

Not a bad day's work.

In exchange though, the Nationals had to part with the heir apparent at second base in Emilio Bonifacio and two good minor league prospects in shortstop Jake Smolinski and right-hander P.J. Dean.

Bonifacio came to the Nats last July in a straight-up deal with Arizona for reliever Jon Rauch, in what was termed a net loss for the Nationals at the time. Bonifacio was steady, but certainly not spectacular at second base, and hit .248 in his time with the Nationals. Defensively, he was a concern and with the Nationals looking to build their club partly through an improved defense, his fit with the club was questionable, although at times, he showed decent range. The defensive lapses were surprising, because Bonifacio has been compared to many second basemen who are known for their glove work, but his fielding percentage of .958 was under the norm of the second base average of .982 for National League second basemen.

The bigger loss is in Smolinski and Dean. Smolinski came into the season ranked tenth among Nationals prospects by DC Baseball News and 11th by Baseball America. Smolinski had come to the Nationals as a shortstop, but had moved to the outfield for 2007 and was at second base this past season making three different stops within the organization and hitting a combined 4-33-.271 in the minors, reaching as high as Hagerstown, where he started the season before moving down to short-season leagues once their seasons got underway.

Dean, who was ranked 30th by Baseball America coming into the season, spent the year at Vermont, going 4-1, 1.57 in ten starts with the Lake Monsters. While he's still a few years away from the majors, he has the potential to be a middle-rotation type starter down the road.

In getting rid of Olsen, the Marlins got rid of a player who was prone to causing a few headaches in the organization. Olsen has had numerous run-ins with teammates, including Miguel Cabrera, Randy Messenger and Sergio Mitre. In 2007, Olsen was arrested for DUI and was also charged with resisting arrest with violence and fleeing and eluding a police officer after speeding away from police who were attempting to pull him over and then kicking them when they attempted to arrest him.

In 2008, Olsen made 33 starts, giving him at least 31 starts in each of the last three seasons, but he reached a career-high in innings pitched (201 2/3).

It's not clear how Josh Willingham will fit in with the Nationals, but if he's healthy, his bat could be a nice addition.
(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Willingham was bothered by a back injury early in the season and the injury seemed to nag him throughout the season, dropping his offensive numbers. Willingham hit .254 with 15 home runs, well below the 47 home runs he hit in the previous two seasons and the .270 average that he put up over those two seasons as well. Speculation is that Willingham, who has played two games at first base in his career, will work on playing the position and possibly platoon with either Dmitri Young or Nick Johnson. That would appear to be a better fit than trying to add Willingham into the crowded corner outfield spots that already have Austin Kearns, Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge vying for playing time in those two spots.

Of course, another trade is also an option to help clear the logjam. Speculation is also rampant that the Marlins may now be looking at dealing second baseman Dan Uggla to make room for Bonifacio. The move would not only clear a lineup spot for Bonifacio, but would clear salary since Uggla is eligible for arbitration. The Nationals will also have to deal with pay hikes for Olsen and Willingham, who are both also eligible for arbitration.

The bottom line: This has the potential to be a very good deal for the Nationals, although it's impossible right now to gauge just how good the young prospects that they gave up will turn out to be down the road.

If they can control Olsen's attitude and if Willingham's back problem is under control, the Nats added two quality players to their roster. They've had some success with attitudinal players in the past - Dukes and Milledge especially come to mind - and if Olsen can be controlled, he'll give them innings, which is something they are greatly in need of.

If they're figuring on Willingham for first base, it might be a nice fit. Since both he and Johnson have had injury problems, a platoon - albeit an expensive one - might get the best out of both players. Of course, Young is still hanging around looking to see where he'll fit in with the Nationals.

Bonifacio's exit leaves a wide open door for Anderson Hernandez, who was impressive in his stint with the Nationals after coming over from the New York Mets last season.

Read about P.J. Dean's 2008 season.

Read about our analysis of the Nats deal to acquire Bonifacio.



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