VIERA, Fla. | There was no bold proclamation about his team “being ready to win more games than we lose” as there was a year ago at this time. There were no ultimatums given to members of the coaching staff or to players if they don’t perform up to a certain standard.
And there certainly was no mention of the prospect formerly known as Esmailyn Gonzalez or any repercussions stemming from the scandal involving him, not after team president Stan Kasten instructed all club employees not to discuss it.
Instead, as Jim Bowden stood in foul territory on a spring training practice field Sunday morning, the Washington Nationals general manager offered a cautious-yet-optimistic view of his team as it prepares for the 2009 season.
“I think it’s improved a lot,” Bowden said in his first public comments of the spring. “We’ve got a lot more depth than we had before. Obviously, we appear a lot healthier than we were last year, which is a good sign. But it’s still early.”
Indeed, Bowden hesitated to draw any significant conclusions about the Nationals with six weeks of camp still to go before Opening Day, April 6 at the Florida Marlins.
He instead addressed a number of issues facing his club, from Odalis Perez’s camp holdout to the surplus of outfielders and first basemen on his roster to the possibility he will pursue more free agents over the course of the spring.
- Perez still hasn’t reported, and he hasn’t returned calls from Bowden, manager Manny Acta or his agent.
Sunday was the mandatory reporting date for all players in major league camps, and Perez was nowhere to be found. The 31-year-old left-hander presumably remains in his native Dominican Republic, holding out for a better deal than the nonguaranteed, $850,000 contract he agreed to Feb. 5.
The Nationals are authorized, per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, to discipline Perez for not reporting on time. But Bowden suggested there won’t be any punishment until someone from the club actually can get a hold of the pitcher.
“We’re taking the position, obviously, that we have an agreement with the player, and we’re expecting the player to honor the agreement,” he said. “But we’d like to talk to him first. So we’re going to wait until he calls us back and then address the other options at that point.”
Asked whether Perez showed any sign of hesitancy at the time the deal was agreed to, Bowden replied: “He gave his agent authority to close the deal, and the agent signed off on his behalf and agreed to the deal. And we’re expecting him to honor it. He doesn’t have to like it. But if he agreed to it, he has to honor it.”
Perez did not respond to a call seeking comment.
- Washington’s excess of outfielders and first basemen should be resolved by Opening Day, either by trades or injuries.
With at least eight players staking a claim to four spots in the starting lineup - Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Josh Willingham, Willie Harris, Wily Mo Pena - something eventually will have to give.
The Nationals are most likely to offer up Johnson and Kearns to interested trade partners, but Bowden wants to be careful not to leave himself unprepared for the inevitable injuries that plague every club.View Entire Story
By James A. Lyons
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