December 2009

Guardado hopes to have impact with Nationals

Left-hander Eddie Guardado said Tuesday he signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals because they showed the most interest in acquiring his services.
The Nationals have been interested in Guardado, 39, since the Winter Meetings. According to a baseball source, team scouts told general manager Mike Rizzo that Guardado would be a big help to the club.

Nicknamed “Everyday Eddie,” Guardado is considered a workhorse out of the bullpen. During his 17 seasons in the big leagues, he has played in 908 games and saved 187 of them. He is best known for his years as the Twins’ closer. His best season was in 2002, when he saved 45 games and posted a 2.93 ERA.

If he makes the team out of Spring Training, Guardado knows what his main role will be with the club: become a mentor to the young relievers. 

“I have to try to teach these kids to be strong mentally. If they are strong mentally, they are going to last in the Major Leagues a long time,” he said.  

Guardado would like to close games like he did with the Twins and Mariners, but he will most likely become a setup man. Brian Bruney and Matt Caps are expected to battle for the closer role.

“The Nationals came at me like they really wanted me,” Guardado said. “They respect what I’ve done in the game and they respect me as a person. They are giving me a chance to get in there late in the game, getting my inning that I like — either pitch the seventh through the ninth.

“The Nationals came to me with open arms and I really respect that. I said, “You know what: I kind of like that idea. They are giving me a chance to close again. I still have the heart to play. That’s the biggest thing.” 

After the 2009 season ended, Guardado suspected is career was over. While he enjoyed his time with the Rangers, Guardado didn’t pitch in the late innings and the younger relievers such as Frank Francisco and C.J. Wilson were pitching better.

“The Rangers gave me an opportunity. I loved helping those young guys, but I really didn’t have a role last year,” Guardado said. “In your mind, you are thinking, ‘Maybe this is it. This is the last straw.'”

While sitting at home in California, his wife, Lisa, asked Eddie if he was sure he was finished with baseball. Guardado wasn’t sure. Later in the offseason, he decided to give baseball another shot, thanks to the Nationals.

“I’m always competitive no matter what. I pitch with my heart. That’s what I go by,” Guardado said. “I believe in myself. I have something left. I think I have a big heart. I’m not trying to brag, but I can spread it all over that clubhouse and have some fun with it — teach these guys how to accept the game and play the game the right way.”  

Lannan happy Marquis joined Nationals

Left-hander John Lannan is one person who is pleased the Nationals signed right-hander Jason Marquis to a two-year, $15 million contract last week. Lannan is expected to learn a lot from the 10-year veteran.

Last year, there wasn’t a veteran in the rotation to learn from until late August, when Livan Hernandez joined the team. Lannan, 25, was Washington’s No. 1 starter, and he wasn’t bad in that role, going 9-13 with a 3.88 ERA and two complete games.

Now Marquis will take over the top spot in the rotation, while Lannan drops down to No. 2. Marquis will help a pitching staff that finished 16th in the National League in ERA [5.00]. 

“Having Jason helps a lot because he had a great season in 2009,” Lannan said. “He has been on winning teams. He also knows how to win. I guess it’s kind of contagious on the teams he was on. Hopefully he keeps on going with that. He has learned from great pitchers.

“I actually talked to him in the middle of the season. He is from Staten Island and he stayed in Staten Island. It shows a lot of dedication. He is very grounded. It’s something we need. When Jason comes in, I’m sure I’m going to learn from him.”

Lannan said he never felt pressured being the No. 1 starter  in Washington’s rotation this past season. He knew he had a lot to learn in that role.

“I knew my role and we didn’t have the big-name guys [in the rotation],” Lannan said. “It was definitely a learning experience. I wouldn’t  have it any other way. I’m glad I was given opportunities to be in that that position. Every year I’m trying to learn. When Jason comes I’m going to learn from him.”     

Six Nats players tendered contracts

The Nationals have tendered contracts to outfielder Josh Willingham, catchers Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves and pitchers Jason Bergmann, Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett on Saturday night.

The Nationals  had an 11:59 p.m. ET deadline Saturday to make a decision on all six players, who are arbitration eligible. 

Earlier in the day, Washington decided it would not be tendering 2010 contracts to pitchers Mike MacDougal and Scott Olsen.

Of all the players coming back, the biggest surprise is Nieves. It was believed that he would be non-tendered after the Nationals signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a two-year $6 million, but they decided to keep Nieves because they feel he has been a valuable player — offensively and defensively — off the bench the last two years and can be insurance in case Jesus Flores is not ready for Spring Training.

Flores had surgery on his right shoulder and right elbow, and the team announced as recently as Friday that Flores would be ready for Spring Training.

“I can only go by what the medical people tell me. They say Jesus should be 100 percent ready to participate in Spring Training,” Rizzo said on Friday. “We take them at their word, but we all know that shoulders are very difficult to predict.”

As for Willingham, he is coming off a productive season in 2009. He started the year on the bench, but became a regular in June and hit .260 with 24 home runs and 61 RBIs. Willingham has been mentioned in trade rumors recently. Teams such as the Mets and Braves have interest in acquiring his services.

Bergmann showed improvement after the All-Star break, going 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA as a reliever. Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman often talked about wanting Bergmann back for the 2010 season.

“In my heart of hearts, I’ve been in this organization a long time. I love people that I play with and play for. I would like to stick around for a long time,” Bergmann said on Wednesday.

Bruney, who was acquired from the Yankees this past week, will compete for the closer’s role durinmg Spring Training.   

Burnett was a quality reliever for the Nationals, who acquired him and center fielder Nyjer Morgan in a trade that sent outfielder Lastings Milledge and right-hander Joel Hanrahan to the Pirates in late June. In 33 games for Washington, Burnett went 1-1 with a 3.20 ERA.

Nats sign Ryan Speier to Minor League contract

Looking to add depth in their bullpen, the Nationals signed right-hander Ryan Speier to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.

Speier, 30, has spent his entire career in the Rockies organization, going 7-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 90 games.

A Virginia native,  Speier attended West Springfield [Va.] High School and Radford University before signing with the Rockies as a non-drafted free agent in 2001.

Nats will not tender contracts to Olsen, MacDougal [updated]

The Nationals decided on Saturday that they will not be tendering 2010 contracts to pitchers Mike MacDougal and Scott Olsen, who were eligible for arbitration.

Both players are coming off injuries. Olsen missed most of the season because of a small tear in his left labrum, going 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA in 11 games, while MacDougal, who ended the season as the Nationals’ closer, saved 20 games with a 3.60 ERA but needed offseason surgery on his right hip.

General manager Mike Rizzo said the Nationals were not willing to tender contracts to MacDougal and Olsen because they weren’t sure if they were going to be 100 percent healthy. Rizzo also did not rule out both players returning to the team. 

“These are very difficult decisions because these are guys that we really, really like,” Rizzo said. “They were great teammates this past season. These are business decisions. We have to do what is best for the franchise.

“With Scotty having the arm surgery at the end of the season, we are not sure where he is physically. We couldn’t take a chance offering him a contract and going to arbitration with him.

“Mike was the same type of situation. He did a nice job for us. He is a guy we really counted on this year. He performed well for us. With the little bit of inconsistency toward the end of the season and then the hip surgery, it was too big of a risk for us.”

Olsen, who made $2.8 million in 2009, said he was not surprised that he was non-tendered. He said the shoulder is 100 percent and hopes to return  to the Nationals because he feels the team is going in the right direction under Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman.

“It’s not an unexpected move by the organization. We have to see how this plays out,” Olsen said. “I don’t have any plans to go anywhere else since I got traded over there. I think Washington  is a great place to play. I would love to go back there.”

MacDougal expressed disappointment that he was non-tendered, in part,  because of his hip injury. He said that the hip is 100 percent and he will start working out at the end of this month.

“I’m disappointed,” MacDougal said. “I enjoyed playing there. I thought I did a good job, so yeah, it’s a little disappointing. What can you do? I’m a free agent and go from there.”

MacDougal’s agent, Rex Gary, said that Rizzo never told him that the hip played a role in MacDougal getting non-tendered.

“Michael was at the doctor and had a great report and everything is fantastic,” Gary said.  “The hip was never brought up as an issue and it really isn’t an issue.”

The Nationals have until midnight Saturday to tender a contract to outfielder Josh Willingham, catchers Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves and pitchers Jason Bergmann and Sean Burnett.

Nationals will not tender contracts to Olsen, MacDougal

The Nationals decided on Saturday that they will not be tendering 2010 contracts to pitchers Mike MacDougal and Scott Olsen, who were eligible for arbitration. 

Both players are coming off injuries. Olsen missed most of the season because of a small tear in his left labrum. He went 2-4 with a 6.03 ERA in 11 games.

MacDougal ended the season as the Nationals closer, saving 20 games with a 3.60 ERA, but needed offseason surgery on his right hip.

The Nationals have until midnight Saturday to tender contracts to outfielder Josh Willingham, catchers Jesus Flores and Wil Nieves and pitchers Jason Bergmann and Sean Burnett.  

Two-year offer was key for I-Rod coming to D.C.

Agent Scott Boras confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that his client, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, agreed to terms with the Nationals because he was offered a two-year deal. 

Boras also said other teams offered Rodriguez a one-year deal worth a lot more money than what the Nationals were offering. Those teams also wanted Rodriguez to play every day.

As a member of the Nationals,  Rodriguez will serve as a backup catcher and mentor to Jesus Flores, who is also a Boras client.

“It was a decision where Pudge wanted to stay there for a couple of years and that’s what it took to bring him there because everybody else was offering higher value on a one-year basis,” Boras said. “[He is OK with being a backup]. The Nationals defined the role and [general manager Mike] Rizzo was very candid about it. We told Pudge. His hope is to get to 3,000 hits.”

The Nationals have not officially announced the signing of Rodriguez, pending a physical. Rodriguez is expected to be in Washington on Thursday or Friday to take a physical. A press conference is expected soon thereafter.

“He is going to bring a lot of information to a locker room about winning, game calling and performing under pressure — all those things,” Boras said.

Rodriguez  has played in 14 All-Star Games and won 13 Gold Glove Awards, most by a catcher and tied for fourth most at any position. The 1999 American League MVP Award winner also has more runs (1,277), hits (2,618) and doubles (526) than any other backstop in Major League history. 

Rodriguez served as a backup for the Rangers after being acquired from the Astros in August. He played in a combined 121 games and hit .249 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 2009.   

Nationals acquire Brian Bruney for player to be named later

The Nationals had the worst bullpen in baseball this past season and general manager Mike Rizzo improve it on Monday when he acquired right-hander Brian Bruney for a player to be named later, according to a baseball source. 

Bruney, who was drafted by Rizzo in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft when both were with the D-Backs, played for the Yankees this past season. He pitched in 44 games and was 5-0 with a 3.92 ERA. The hard throwing right-hander was left off the playoff roster in the first two rounds.

Bruney most likely will be a setup for the Nationals. 

Mets interested in Willingham

Add the Mets as one of the teams who have interest in Nationals left fielder Josh Willingham, according to a baseball source. The Giants, Mariners and Braves are the other teams who reportedly are willing to acquire his services.

The Mets had problems finding a regular left fielder this past season. They used nine players in at the position and hit a combined .276 with 12 home runs and 76 RBIs. Willingham started the 2009 season on the bench, but became the everyday left fielder starting in June and hit .260 with  24 home runs and 61 RBIs.

Willingham is not only an outfielder. He can play first base and go behind the plate in emergency situation.

“Willingham is the only player on the Nationals [the Mets] are interested in,” the source said.

Don’t look for the Nationals to give Willingham away. The Nationals most likely would want pitching in return. Who they want from New York is not known. If Willingham were to leave, Washington most likely will give Roger Bernadina or Justin Maxwell a chance to play left field. Don’t rule out the two players platooning at the position. 

Nationals name Minor League managers

The Nationals named their Minor League managers for the 2010 season on Friday.

Trent Jewett will manage Triple-A Syracuse, replacing Tim Foli. Jewett returns for his second season in Washington’s chain after guiding Class A Potomac to a 79-58 record. In 16 seasons as a manager in the minor leagues, Jewett has amassed 1,068 career victories.

Randy Knorr, who served as the Nationals’ bullpen coach this past season, will manage Double-A Harrisburg. Knorr enters his fifth season as a manager in Washington’s system. His best year came in 2008, when he guided Potomac to the Carolina League Championship.

Gary Cathcart was named manager of Potomac. He joins the Washington organization after spending the previous seven seasons as a coach or manager in the Blue Jays chain.

Matt LeCroy returns for his second season as manager of Class-A Hagerstown.  In his first year at the helm, the Suns went 56-78.

Jeff Garber embarks on his third season in the Nationals chain, his second as manager with Class-A Vermont. The team went 34-41 this past season.  

Bobby Williams was named manager of the Gulf Coast Nationals, returning to the dugout after serving the past three years as director of player development for the organization. The 2010 campaign will mark his sixth season with Washington, his third as a manager.

In other news: the Nationals named Bobby Henley their field coordinator, Jeff Garber as the infield coordinator, Rick Shu as the hitting coordinator, Spin Williams as the pitching coordinator and Devon White as the outfield and baserunning coordinator.