- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

The Washington Nationals avoided arbitration with reliever T.J. Tucker last night, signing the right-hander to a one-year, $657,000 deal.

The move came hours before baseball’s midnight deadline to tender 2005 contracts to unsigned players. Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden held talks with several other players yesterday but had not reached any more deals as of press time.

Though the Nationals did not sign any other players, they did tender all of their remaining arbitration-eligible players: outfielder Brad Wilkerson, catcher Brian Schneider, first baseman Nick Johnson and pitchers Tony Armas Jr. and Tomo Ohka.

Washington can continue to negotiate contracts with those five players through the rest of the winter. If the two sides can’t come to agreement, they will go to arbitration in February.

Bowden gave some consideration to “nontendering” one or two of the arbitration-eligible players but ultimately chose to bring all of them back in 2005. Though they will receive sizeable raises, Bowden said the club can afford to take them all to arbitration without exceeding his mandated Opening Day payroll (believed to be about $50million).

“We’re very comfortable that they can all fit within our budget,” he said. “In fact, we’ll still be extremely below budget even with these arbitration guys.”

Tucker, who will nearly double his 2004 salary, is coming off the best season of his major league career. The 26-year-old went 4-2 with a 3.72 ERA in 54 games for the Expos in 2004, serving in a variety of roles for manager Frank Robinson: in short relief, long relief and even as a spot starter Aug.18 in the second game of a doubleheader at San Francisco.

Over his four-year career, all with the Nationals franchise, Tucker is 12-9 with a 4.46 ERA and four saves (all coming in 2002). He figures to be used primarily in the middle innings this season, bridging the gap between the starting rotation and late-inning specialists Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala and Joey Eischen.

Eischen avoided arbitration Sunday, signing a one-year deal worth $1.04million.

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