|Following closely their trade of Mike Jacobs, the Marlins cleared further payroll by trading two more young veterans, lefthander Scott Olsen and left fielder Josh Willingham, to the Nationals for a trio of young players. Florida received second basemen Emilio Bonifacio and Jake Smolinski and righthander P.J. Dean.|
|The Young Players|
|Acquired by the Nationals near the trading deadline, Bonifacio batted .248/.305/.344 in his 41-game trial as Washington’s second baseman. He’s a smooth defender at the keystone with a strong arm. A switch-hitter with plus-plus speed, Bonifacio stole just 21 bases in 2008, counting both the majors and minors, after nabbing 41 the year before. Though he’s playing well for Licey of the Dominican League this winter, batting .337/.455/.470 in 21 games through Nov. 10, Bonifacio has struggled to build on his big 2006 season in the high Class A California League. That season he hit .321/.375/.449 in Lancaster, a notorious hitter’s haven, but his minor league averages in the two seasons since are a more modest .297/.345/.371 in 949 at-bats. Just five of Bonifacio’s 12 career home runs have come outside of the Cal League, meaning he profiles as more of a steady defensive second baseman with speed and a contact/average approach. Bonifacio turns 24 early next season.
Smolinski, the Nationals’ second-round pick in 2007 out of a Rockford, Ill., high school, has endured two injury-plagued seasons of pro ball. But the righthanded batter has hit a composite .280/.356/.399 when healthy, all while transitioning from shortstop as an amateur to left field in ’07 to second base in ’08. Smolinski, who will be 20 next season, had his pro debut was cut short when he fouled a ball off his foot and suffered a small break, and then this season he missed two months with a broken thumb. The news got worse this fall, when he reportedly had both ACL and MCL surgery after being upended in a collision while turning a double play at second base in instructional league. Smolinski is expected to be out until at least May.
The Nationals’ 2007 seventh-round pick from New Caney (Texas) High—Adam Dunn’s alma mater—Dean saw both his stuff and results improve in 2008. He went 4-1, 1.57 for short-season Vermont, compiling 34 strikeouts and 16 walks in 46 innings. The 20-year-old Dean, who could add velocity as he builds to his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame—already sits 91-92 mph, with life, and touches 94. Presently, his hard curveball and changeup both rate as average.
|The price was right for the Nationals to acquire two established young veterans. Olsen, 24, fits in as perhaps Washington’s top starting pitcher, rivaled only by Collin Balester, John Lannan or the healthy version of Shawn Hill. Though his fastball and slider both were down last season, Olsen still took 33 turns in the rotation, going 8-11, 4.20 and notching 113 strikeouts and 69 walks in 202 innings. In fact, Olsen has made 30 or more starts in each of his three big league seasons. But because of maturity concerns and because he’s arbitration-eligible, the Marlins deemed Olsen expendable.
Because he spent five and a half years in the minors, Willingham will be 30 years old before he embarks upon his fourth season as a regular next season. He’s a steady righthanded batter who hits and hits for power against both righties and lefties. Willingham has batted .266/.361/.472 in 416 career games. Drafted as a catcher, he’s not much of a defender in left field and might fit better at first base, depending on what happens with Nick Johnson and on Willingham’s back, which nagged him during the ’08 season. Dmitri Young is no longer a member of the 40-man roster, so he won’t stand in the way, and both Aaron Boone and Triple-A first baseman Larry Broadway are free agents.