Nationals make biggest in-season addition yet with Wilson

By Jim Callis

July 13, 2005

With more than two weeks remaining until the deadline for trades without waivers, transaction action is just starting to heat up. The Nationals moved to strengthen their chances of continuing their surprising success on Wednesday when they acquired the best player to change teams this season. Washington picked up Preston Wilson from the Rockies for Zach Day, minor league outfielder J.J. Davis and either a player to be named later or cash. Colorado also will contribute $3.58 million of the $5.58 million remaining on Wilson’s $12 million salary for 2005.

The 30-year-old Wilson’s job is to boost a Nationals offense that ranks last in the majors in runs (359) and last in the National League in homers (66). Wilson led the NL with 141 RBIs in 2003 before missing much of last year following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He has bounced back to hit .258/.322/.491 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 71 games this year, though much of that damage was done at Coors Field (.281/.350/.544 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 42 games). Wilson has legitimate power in any park, though he doesn’t make consistent contact (77 strikeouts this year) and won’t hit for a high average. He’s not the basestealing threat he was before knee surgery, but he’s still able to play center field and has a good arm for the position. Wilson will allow Brad Wilkerson to move from center field to first base to fill in for the injured Nick Johnson. In the final year of a five-season, $32 million contract, Wilson will become a free agent after the season. He’s a career .265/.333/.481 hitter with 161 homers, 548 RBIs and 107 steals in 880 games. His departure will allow the Rockies to give rookie Cory Sullivan more playing time in center field.

Day, a 27-year-old righthander, drew the ire of Washington manager Frank Robinson when he turned his back on Robinson during a pitching change May 3. The Nationals pulled him from the rotation afterward, and he sustained a hairline fracture in his pitching wrist when he was hit by a Ken Griffey Jr. liner on May 23. He was 1-2, 6.75 in 12 games (five starts), with a 16-25 strikeout-walk ratio in 36 innings. Opponents have hit .289 with four homers against him this year. Day, who was on a rehab assignment to Double-A Harrisburg at the time of the trade, has struggled to locate his sinker in 2005, much more so than he has in the past. His secondary pitches (curveball, slider, changeup) also have been less consistent. Neither his velocity (88-92 mph) nor his backup offerings are above average, so he doesn’t have much margin for error. The Rockies initially will use Day in their bullpen but project him as a member of their future rotation. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after the season. He has gone 19-21, 4.31 in 73 big league games.

Davis, 26, was the eighth overall pick by the Pirates in 1997 out of a California high school but has yet to find his niche in the majors. Acquired from Pittsburgh in November for minor league outfielder Antonio Sucre, Davis went 6-for-26 with the Nationals this year, pushing his big league totals to .179/.248/.217 with one homer and nine RBIs in 106 at-bats. He has spent most of this year at Triple-A New Orleans, batting .282/.359/.546 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs in 51 games. Davis possesses plus power, speed and arm strength, but he lacks discipline and doesn’t fare well against breaking pitches. He also can look awkward in right field at times.

Dec. 16 update: The Rockies received outfielder Doc Brooks to complete the trade. A Padres seventh-round pick in 2001 out of the University of Georgia, Brooks joined the Nationals via the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft at the 2004 Winter Meetings. The 25-year-old Brooks offers prodigious power, but he never has made enough consistent contact to take advantage of it. He hit .240/.323/.362 with 10 homers, 43 RBIs—and 127 strikeouts—in 118 games at high Class A Potomac in 2005.