Willingham, Olsen should help Nats

November, 10, 2008
The Marlins moved two players in a salary dump, trading Scott Olsen and Josh Willingham to the Nationals, who are in a perfect position to roll the dice on left-hander Olsen while receiving a big upgrade offensively from outfielder Willingham. It's an easy win for Washington, but Florida's only major gain may be salary relief.

Willingham is a bat without a clear position and adds to the Washington outfield logjam to some degree, but he is just the type of hitter the Nationals need in their lineup. Willingham is solid at the plate, with a short path to the ball and the ability to drive the ball the other way, but his only above-average tool (or skill) is his plate discipline. His ability to get on base with average power means he can play every day in an outfield corner, but he isn't going to be a star there unless he flukes into a 30-homer season. Given how much trouble Washington had scoring runs in 2008, he's absolutely an upgrade and likely to be a good value in arbitration, a process that underpays OBP and overpays bulk production. His arrival probably dooms Wily Mo Pena to the bench and could put a dent in Austin Kearns' playing time as well.

Olsen was a high-upside power arm, but his velocity took a big hit this year, dropping from the low-to-mid 90s to the upper 80s, although he rebounded late in the year and was touching 94 again in September. His slider still has decent bite, but it's slower and a little less sharp than it was two years ago, and he has come to rely more heavily on his changeup, a fringe-average pitch at best that is not effective against right-handed hitters. It's a sell-high moment for Florida, considering Olsen isn't likely to come close to repeating his 2008 ERA of 4.20 -- his RA was a much less attractive 4.73 -- but at the same time it's a potential upside play for Washington with the hope that Olsen's velocity rebound in September is a sign of things to come. Left-handers with Olsen's stuff when he's good are very hard to come by. One thing to bear in mind is that Olsen has had problems with alcohol and with his behavior in the past, although he apparently stayed out of trouble this season.

The deal works for the Nationals because they gave up so little. In exchange for Olsen and Willingham, Florida received one inexpensive big leaguer and a pair of short-season prospects. Emilio Bonifacio projects as a utility player because he can move around the infield, playing plus defense at second, and perhaps fill in as a center fielder due to his plus speed. However, he doesn't project to hit for much power and his instincts at the plate aren't good. Florida hasn't had much luck improving the plate discipline of its players, and that also doesn't bode well for an overaggressive hitter like Bonifacio.

Jake Smolinski has a good swing that's geared for contact, but he lacks a clear everyday position. He can play left but lacks the power to be more than a fringy regular there, and he didn't adapt well to second base this year. He also had major knee surgery this month, repairing tears to his MCL and ACL, and will be out into 2009.

P.J. Dean is an aggressive strike-thrower with a solid-average fastball and a below-average curve that you could see improving to average, but he's also an undersized right-hander without much velocity projection and is probably four years away from having big league value. It's not much of a prospect return for the Marlins.


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