Nationals stymied at winter meetings

ANAHEIM, Calif. — It didn’t take long yesterday to figure out Jim Bowden had little to report from baseball’s winter meetings. Lounging in his suite at the Anaheim Marriott in a powder blue sweat suit, the Washington Nationals interim general manager clearly wasn’t about to announce any major moves.

“I’m not dressed for the podium because I’m not going to the podium,” Bowden said, laughing.

The first two days of these meetings have been frustrating for the Nationals. Spurned by some free agent targets and unable to afford others, the club has been reduced to spectator status while the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and others make all the news.

One day after acknowledging defeat in the Odalis Perez sweepstakes, Bowden yesterday conceded he won’t be able to sign veteran infielder Barry Larkin either.

Washington had offered the potential Hall of Fame shortstop a one-year contract to serve as a utility man and mentor to younger players, but Larkin is seeking a more substantive role with another club.

“Barry wants an opportunity to play a lot more than he would get here,” Bowden said. “And financially with where the market’s going for him, it’s probably well beyond what we were willing to do, because the dollars that we have we’d like to put toward pitching. Barry on the bench would help us, but we think he’s going to get a better role from someone else.”

Still in search of veteran leadership, the Nationals have made an offer to first baseman/outfielder Wil Cordero, whom manager Frank Robinson felt was a key figure on his 2003 Montreal Expos.

Cordero hit .197 in 27 games with the Florida Marlins last season and missed four months while recovering from knee surgery. Baseball sources said the 33-year-old also is considering an offer from the New York Mets and should make a decision before the winter meetings end tomorrow.

Whether it’s Cordero or someone else, Robinson stressed his desire to have a veteran leader on his 2005 roster.

“The previous years I’ve been here, we were hoping someone would step forward. No one ever really did,” Robinson said. “Every club needs that. You can’t force somebody to be a leader. It takes a very special person, and hopefully we’ll have someone like that this year.”

Though his pursuits of Perez and right-hander Jaret Wright fell short, Bowden hasn’t completely given up on landing a free agent pitcher. He spoke to agent Scott Boras yesterday about Derek Lowe, though Bowden conceded it would take a near miracle to bring the highly sought right-hander to Washington.

The Nationals appear to have less interest in right-hander Esteban Loaiza, who at 32 is older than most of the pitchers the club has pursued.

Washington discussed trades with several clubs yesterday, though nothing appeared imminent.

“I’m not frustrated,” Bowden said. “It’s life, we’ll deal with it. It’d be nice to get a starting pitcher that could pitch 200 innings and win us 10-15 games. That’s a goal of ours. If we can find a way to fit it, we’d like to. … But look, the market’s clear. The market’s not changing. It is what it is.”

Notes — The Nationals released left-hander Chad Bentz. Bentz, who was born with a deformed right hand and must pitch and catch with his left hand only, posted a 5.86 ERA in 36 games with the Expos last year. Washington has offered to re-sign him to a minor league contract. …

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