Nats could be involved in Ramirez deal
Bowden says that Winter Meetings breed 'creative' atmosphere
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Although they are not involved in the free-agent spending spree, the Nationals find themselves in trade discussions at the Winter Meetings.
General manager Jim Bowden would not talk about the trade possibilities, but baseball sources said the Nationals are talking to the Red Sox and Giants about a possible three-way deal that could send Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Giants.
It had been reported a few weeks ago that Ramirez, one of the top run-producers in baseball, is on the trading block and San Francisco is among the candidates to acquire his services.
The Nationals would want prospects or Major Leaguers in return. Without naming names, Bowden said that he may have to trade one of his better players to get what he wants, and, according to the sources, Cordero, outfielder Ryan Church and infielder Jose Vidro have drawn the most interest in trade talks.
A couple of weeks ago, The Boston Globe reported that the Nationals were interested in outfielder Wily Mo Pena for closer Chad Cordero. The Red Sox need a closer, because they plan to put Jonathan Papelbon, their stopper last season, into the starting rotation.
Bowden has tried to acquire Pena each of the last two years, so his love for the outfielder is no secret. The GM has always felt that Pena has the potential to put up offensive numbers similar to those produced by Sammy Sosa.
Last season, Pena played in 84 games for the Red Sox and hit .301 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs. When he was the general manager of the Reds, Bowden acquired Pena from the Yankees for third baseman Drew Henson and outfielder Michael Coleman on March 21, 2001.
"We are continuing our plan and looking to strengthen our team through scouting, player development and young players," Bowden said. "Any opportunities that we have to improve our long-term club, we are going to do it. Then, in the course of the middle of all that, we end up getting involved in much bigger things, not on purpose, but when you are at the Winter Meetings, people tend to be creative."
Sources also have said that the Angels could be involved in a three-way deal with the Nationals and Red Sox with Ramirez going to the Angels. The Nationals would love to have right-hander Ervin Santana, who was 16-8 with a 4.28 ERA last season.
"You have to consider every transaction," Bowden said. "I can't have a conversation with some other club and say, 'We can't trade anyone of these four or five or six guys.' That would be foolish where we are. I think we would listen to everybody. If there's an opportunity out there, where someone can win quicker but we can win in the long-term, we are going to consider that kind of deal. We have and we will.
"We have some real interesting quality guys we have control over and that other clubs are going to have interest in because of the way the free-agent market is. And if we have to be a crawfish and take a step back in order to take two steps forward, we'll be that crawfish. We are open to that. We are not going to lose focus on the long-term plan."
If Cordero were to get traded, Jon Rauch most likely would be Washington's closer. Luis Ayala also has experience as a closer in the Mexican League, but he is coming off elbow reconstruction surgery. The Nationals are known to take it slow with their injured players.
Church, 28, also is arbitration eligible. For now, he has a chance to compete with Kory Casto for the left-field job vacated by Alfonso Soriano, who signed a free-agent contract with the Cubs.
However, Church has been in Washington's doghouse for most of this offseason, according to sources, because under the advice of his agent, Jeff Borris, he declined to go to the Mexican Winter League, where the Nationals wanted him to work on hitting breaking balls over the outside part of the plate.
Borris told MLB.com a few weeks ago that Church has nothing more to prove and pointed out that in the last two seasons in the Major Leagues, Church hit a combined .282 (131-for-464) with 19 home runs 76 RBIs.
In 2006, Church had an up-and-down season, spending half the time in the Minor Leagues. But he finished strong, hitting .276 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. The Cubs and Royals have shown the most interest in Church.
On Monday, Bowden denied that the team has problems with Church.
"He has good standing with the club," the GM said. "We respect what he has accomplished with minimal at-bats in the big leagues. He has a nice on-base percentage. He's a left-handed hitter. Good player."
Vidro may be harder to trade because he has two years left on a contract worth $16 million.
Vidro, who is part of a crowded middle infield that includes Cristian Guzman and Felipe Lopez, appears to be the odd man out. Last season, despite getting through a season without knee problems for the first time since the first half of 2003, Vidro had a subpar season, by his standards.
After Vidro had a tough time driving in runs and saw his range deteriorate at second base, Washington may have to eat some of his contract to pull off a deal.
The Nationals have not ruled out keeping Vidro. If Nick Johnson, who broke his right leg in September, is not 100 percent by Opening Day, Vidro could be the starting first baseman.
Another possibility is that Vidro and Lopez could be a double-play combination again if Guzman has not fully recovered from right-shoulder surgery, which caused him to miss the entire 2006 season.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.