Willingham signs before arbitration hearing

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Just got a call from the field down in Viera from Mark Zuckerman, who reports that the Nationals avoided arbitration — by minutes, apparently — with Josh Willingham, one of the players picked up from the Marlins in the offseason.

The Nationals and Willingham agreed on a $2.95 million salary for the outfielder for this season, which is almost the exact midpoint between what the two sides were asking for. Washington originally had offered $2.55 million, and Willingham had asked for $3.5 million.

We don’t know yet if general manager Jim Bowden will be returning to Florida from Phoenix, where the arbitration hearings are held, or if he will stay out there until Friday. That’s when Ryan Zimmerman’s hearing is scheduled. The Nationals’ third baseman is asking for $3.9 million, and the team is offering $2.75 million.

Willingham joined the Nationals during in November 2008 from the Florida Marlins along with left-handed pitcher Scott Olsen; the Nationals sent the Marlins middle infielder Emilio Bonifacio and two minor leagues in return. Willingham played in only 102 games last season because of a herniated disk in his back, and he hit .254 with 15 homers and 54 RBI. Olsen also avoided arbitration with the Nationals, agreeing to a $2.8 million salary this season.

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