- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

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VIERA, Fla. — The Washington Nationals signed first baseman Dmitri Young, a former All-Star whose career was sidetracked by off-field issues, and third baseman Tony Batista to minor league contracts yesterday and invited both veterans to join their accelerated spring training camp.

The surprising moves were designed to bolster the organization’s depth while adding assets that could be traded later on, according to general manager Jim Bowden.

Neither player will report to big league camp yet, but Young could wind up with the major leaguers within a few weeks if he gets into shape. The 33-year-old hit .250 with seven homers and 23 RBI in 48 games for the Detroit Tigers last year but was released in September following a spate of injuries and personal problems.

Young, who made two stints on the disabled list with a quadriceps strain, spent time at a California rehabilitation center to undergo treatment for drug and alcohol addictions. Following his release in September, he was sentenced to one year of probation upon pleading guilty to charges of domestic violence against his former girlfriend.

“He’s been extremely apologetic for the mistakes he’s made in his life,” said Bowden, who was general manager of the Cincinnati Reds when Young played there. “He has asked for a second chance in life. He comes in knowing the organization has zero tolerance on any incident whatsover that may take place. If it does happen, he’ll be released.”

Young, a career .289 hitter with the Tigers, Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, could wind up playing first base for the Nationals while Nick Johnson recovers from a broken right leg. The club still views rookie Larry Broadway as the top candidate, but Young joins Travis Lee and Robert Fick as veteran alternatives.

Bowden said talks with Young had been ongoing for the last month or so and that team president Stan Kasten signed off on the deal after several discussions. Young’s agent, Adam Katz, didn’t return messages yesterday.

Both Young and Batista (a career .251 hitter who started at third base for the Montreal Expos in 2004) received nonguaranteed deals that would pay $500,000 if they make the major league club. Even if they don’t, Bowden said both players could become attractive to other teams in a trade.

“They’re getting opportunities,” the GM said. “We’re getting assets.”

Cordero, Nationals to talk

Bowden said he has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with closer Chad Cordero and his agent, Larry Reynolds, in a last attempt to avoid a salary arbitration hearing set for Tuesday.

“As I’ve said continually, we don’t like the [arbitration] process. We prefer to settle, but this is big business,” Bowden said. “There is a lot of dollars at stake at every single signing that we have.”

Cordero is asking for $4.5 million, and the Nationals are offering $3.65 million. Last season, Cordero made $525,000. The parties in the past week began discussion of a long-term, multiyear deal for the club’s closer.

“We will always have interest in signing some of our core young players to multiyear deals if we could do it in a way that makes sense both financially and baseball-wise for long term,” Bowden said.

Big meeting

Manager Manny Acta and his coaching staff met for 3 hours yesterday with Bowden to discuss all 71 players in camp as well as the 42 invited to the club’s accelerated program that starts Tuesday.

So what message came out of the meeting? Play better defense.

“First of all, [our defense is] going to be better because we have a legit center fielder now in Nook Logan,” Acta said. “Our defense up the middle is going to improve. We have two shortstops [Cristian Guzman and Felipe Lopez] playing up the middle, and we have Brian Schneider behind the plate. It starts tomorrow.

“We’re going to work on the things that they failed at the last two years. This team was very good defensively a couple of years ago.”

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