Searching all spring for a fifth starter and in need of another left-hander with Ross Detwiler on the disabled list and Scott Olsen’s status uncertain, the Nationals went another route on Thursday: They filled out their rotation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Multiple club and industry sources said the team has signed President Obama to a one-year deal for the major-league minimum, and will add him to the 40-man roster sometime this weekend. The left-hander, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the team’s Opening Day game against the Phillies, was at Nationals Park prepping for the pitch last week, and impressed team officials enough they decided to make it a permanent job.
“They liked his arm slot, his command, all that stuff,” an opposing GM said. “But what really sold them was his mound presence. He’s a plus-makeup guy.”
The Nationals have yet to work out the finer points of Obama’s schedule to match it up with his other obligations, but a source said the team has discussed letting him fly Air Force One on days he pitches, rather than traveling with the team.
His first start will come April 11 against the Mets, and after throwing the ceremonial first pitch, he will make his home debut against Milwaukee on April 16.
Obama was the butt of some jokes for his ceremonial first pitch in the All-Star Game last summer. But a team official said Obama had a pitching mound put in the White House, and has been throwing bullpen sessions since last July.
“He’s a Chicago guy,” one club source said. “He’s a basketball guy first. But he saw how well the switch worked for Michael Jordan, and he wanted to give it a try.”
Obama, 48, will be the oldest player in the major leagues. “But hey, he’s not that much older than Jamie Moyer,” an opposing scout said. “And they’re both left-handed. There are some parallels there.”
What’s yet to be determined is how long Obama will be with the team. There’s the issue of a contentious health-care debate, a weak economy and potential House and Senate losses for the Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections. The Nationals have also lined up rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg to slide into the fifth spot in the rotation, possibly as soon as June.
But a club source said the Nationals raised that scenario to Obama in a meeting last week, and the left-hander wasn’t concerned with the possibility. “He understands they’re building for the future, and this might only be a temporary thing,” the source said. “He just wants to give it a try. And besides, he might talk to Strasburg about a staff position anyway.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo was unavailable for comment. Multiple club sources added one more important point, though: