- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

The Washington Nationals came to terms with reliever Joey Eischen yesterday on a one-year, $1.04 million contract, evidence the franchise still is conducting some baseball business despite its uncertain future.

Major League Baseball last week announced the Nationals were ceasing business and marketing operations until the league and the D.C. Council can reach agreement on the Anacostia waterfront ballpark deal. But the club insisted baseball operations would proceed without interruption and interim general manager Jim Bowden would continue to assemble a roster for the 2005 season.

That has proved to be only partly true. While Bowden has been able to make minor moves such as Eischen’s re-signing, he’s unable right now to pursue any major trades or free-agent signings.

Bowden still would love to sign free-agent left-hander Odalis Perez, who yesterday rejected an arbitration offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but until baseball gives him the green light to resume full operations, the GM is hamstrung.

Baseball sources said Perez, who went 7-6 with a 3.25 ERA in 31 starts last year, would prefer to sign with Washington and even would be willing to take less money to come here. But with the ballpark debate dragging on, Perez may have no choice but to sign with another team. The Seattle Mariners are believed to have offered him a better deal than the Nationals’ proposed, three-year, $18 million contract.

Though the Nationals envision Eischen retaining his role as the club’s top left-handed set-up man, the 34-year-old is a marketable player, particularly at his reduced salary. Eischen, who avoided arbitration by signing a nonguaranteed contract yesterday, made $1.3 million in 2004 but was forced to take a 20 percent pay cut because he missed four months last season after undergoing elbow surgery.

He did return strong from the injury, posting a 3.93 ERA in 21 appearances with the Expos while holding left-handed batters to a .167 average. Over an eight-year career, the last four with the Nationals’ franchise, Eischen has a 3.45 ERA.

With Eischen signed, Washington now has six players eligible for arbitration: outfielder Brad Wilkerson, catcher Brian Schneider, first baseman Nick Johnson and pitchers Tony Armas Jr., Tomo Ohka and T.J. Tucker.

Bowden, though, could decide not to tender contracts to some of those players by today’s deadline. The three pitchers are the most likely to be nontendered.

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