Update 4:54 p.m.:
In a conference call with reporters, general manager Mike Rizzo said the package the Nationals got back from the Oakland Athletics for Josh Willingham - reliever Henry Rodriguez and outfielder Corey Brown - was a better return for the outfielder than they would have received when they were taking offers on Willingham near last year's trade deadline.
Rodriguez, a 23-year-old right-hander who throws close to 100 mph, was linked to the team during last week's Winter Meetings, and Rizzo said the Nationals had been scouting him for some time. He's expected to start the year in the team's bullpen, and Rizzo said he can eventually be a setup man for Drew Storen or a closer. He's struggled with walks in the past, but Rizzo feels he is "trending positively" with his control. Wildness, though, has been a big part of the reason why Rodriguez didn't stick with the A's, a team that historically gives big opportunities to young relievers.
Brown will come to major league camp and likely start the year at Triple-A Syracuse, Rizzo said. He can play center field, and "has the power to play both corners," Rizzo said. From my view, the best thing the 25-year-old gives the Nationals is a possible successor for Nyjer Morgan, should he falter this year.
Rizzo said concerns about Willingham's health played into the deal, but wouldn't make the same link between Willingham's contract status. Willingham is entering his last year of arbitration and could make around $6 million this year. "The decision to trade Josh was not based on salary or money whatsoever," Rizzo said.
The Nationals traded outfielder Josh Willingham to the Oakland Athletics today, a source close to Willingham confirmed. The move creates more uncertainty in a lineup that's already changing, but possibly gives the Nationals more room to acquire the pitcher they've been seeking all offseason.
The Nationals will receive two prospects in return for Willingham, who is entering his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the year. They'll also clear about $6 million off their books for 2011; Willingham is expected to receive that much in arbitration.
The extra room would help them take on the salary of someone like Royals pitcher Zack Greinke, to whom the Nationals have been linked in trade talks. Greinke is due to make $13.5 million in 2011, and the Nationals would likely need to send a package of prospects to Kansas City to get him. It was not immediately known who the Nationals would be receiving in exchange for Willingham, but the prospects could either be repackaged in a trade for a pitcher or help replace the players the Nationals would lose in such a deal.
The Nationals' immediate plan to replace Willingham would be to platoon Roger Bernadina and Michael Morse, who shared right field for most of last season, in left. Morse, though, could end up playing first base if the Nationals can't find another solution to replace Adam Dunn. But Bernadina and Morse combined to hit 27 homers last season, and the Nationals like both players better defensively in left than in right.
Willingham, who came to the Nationals from Florida in a November 2008 deal, had two productive seasons for the Nationals, though his 2010 season was marred by torn cartilage in his right knee that he had surgically repaired in late August. He hit fifth for the Nationals the last two years, but the team was fearful of his injury history and had decided not to extend his contract, instead shopping him to teams looking for a mid-priced bat.