- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 2004

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Washington Nationals left baseball’s winter meetings yesterday without the starting pitcher they covet, but they didn’t go away empty-handed.

The Nationals signed first baseman/outfielder Wil Cordero to a one-year, $600,000 contract, signed veteran outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds to a minor-league contract and picked up two position players during the Rule 5 draft.

Cordero’s signing had been expected for several days. The 33-year-old hit just .197 with one homer in 27 games for the Florida Marlins last season, but he became a favorite of manager Frank Robinson for his veteran leadership with the Expos in 2002 and 2003.

In Washington, Cordero will be asked to mentor a young roster, serve as a key right-handed pinch-hitter and make occasional starts in left field and at first base. He also will be seeking to resurrect his 13-year career, during which he has played for six clubs (the Expos, Red Sox, White Sox, Indians, Pirates and Marlins).

“He knows he’s got something to prove,” Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said. “But I think the people here who had him liked him in the clubhouse. And we know what he can do on the field.”

To make room for Cordero on the 40-man roster, Washington designated outfielder Ron Calloway for assignment.

Hammonds, who turns 34 in March, is likewise attempting to resurrect his wayward career after batting just .211 in 40 games with the Giants in 2004. A one-time top prospect of the Baltimore Orioles in the mid-1990s, Hammonds has been plagued by injuries and has spent the last six years bouncing through four organizations, including the Reds while Bowden was GM.

The Nationals are taking little risk by signing Hammonds to a minor-league deal. If he makes the club out of spring training, he will earn $350,000 this season. If not, Washington loses nothing.

“This is a nonguaranteed contract; he’s got to come to camp [and make the roster],” Bowden said. “He’s a good kid. I liked him when I had him very much. Frank Robinson knows and loves him. Both Frank and I thought he’d be a star. He never was. But we know his makeup is good, and he can accept a role.”

Washington selected two players in yesterday’s Rule 5 draft: speedy outfielder Tyrell Godwin off the Blue Jays’ roster and power-hitting corner infielder Tony Blanco from the Reds. Both players must remain on the Nationals’ 25-man roster all season or else be offered back to their old clubs for $25,000 each.

Godwin appears to have the best chance of sticking in the majors. Bowden loves the 25-year-old’s speed — he stole 42 bases for Class AA New Hampshire last year — and envisions him as a late-inning pinch-running specialist in the mold of Red Sox postseason hero Dave Roberts.

Blanco could provide some pop off the bench — he batted .275 with 29 homers and 78 RBI combined between Class A Potomac and Class AA Chattanooga — but he has no natural position in the field and would be a defensive liability if plugged in at either first or third base.

The Nationals were the only team to select two players in yesterday’s draft. They also acquired three players in the Class AAA phase of the draft (right-hander Victor Prieto from the Marlins, infielder Edgar Gonzalez from the Rangers and outfielder Cedrick Brooks from the Diamondbacks) but lost left-hander Luke Lockwood to the Marlins and right-hander Jonathan Searles to the Cubs. They immediately sold Prieto to Boston for $25,000.

Washington also signed four players during the Class AA phase of the draft: outfielders Jim Kavourias (Marlins) and Marcus Nettles (Padres), infielder Dan Dement (Devil Rays) and right-hander Daniel Cole (Brewers).

Finally, the Nationals picked up $20,000 cash from San Diego as compensation for September’s trade of shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

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