- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 16, 2005

Your team just got a legitimate major league home run hitter — probably the second biggest slugger now on the roster, with 162 career home runs in 881 games — for a pitcher you barely used before the All-Star break and an outfielder who is destined to be a career minor leaguer.

I don’t care if Preston Wilson strikes out 200 times a year and has hit 80 percent of his home runs in the thin Denver air. When your offense goes up to the plate swinging with toothpicks instead of lumber, even the threat of a home run makes your team better.

For the Washington Nationals, trading pitcher Zach Day and outfielder J.J. Davis to the Rockies for Wilson was a no-brainer. The Pirates gave up on Davis last winter, trading him to the Nats for another mediocre minor league outfielder, Antonio Sucre, after seven minor league seasons. And Davis didn’t show anything here to prove Pittsburgh wrong.

Day still might prove to be a major league pitcher. He has a sinker that scouts love, and was considered to have more potential than Tony Armas Jr., and Tomo Ohka, two other pitchers who carried over from the Expos.

But it was not going to happen here, with Frank Robinson as the manager. Day got on the wrong side of Robinson, and when your team is in a pennant race, there is not a lot of room for redemption. He will have that chance in Colorado, because if he struggles for a while there, who would notice the difference from any other Rockies starter?

Now, though, general manager Jim Bowden faces a much tougher task — finding a starting pitcher. The Nats need depth in the rotation to get to Sept.1 — the date when the pennant homestretch begins and after which the Nats have 19 home games in the final month with all but three against National League East opponents.

With Day and Davis gone, Bowden doesn’t have any excess baggage to deal. He’ll have to figure out what prospects in the Nats’ limited farm system he can part with and who will be attractive enough for a team to trade one of its starters. (And I still believe Pirates left-hander Mark Redman, even though he got roughed up Thursday and has a 4-9 record, is an excellent option who could be had without too much pain.)

No one expected the Nats to be buyers in the trading market this year. Back in November at the general managers’ meetings in Key Biscayne Fla., Bowden spoke generally about how small- and middle-market teams get better in July, when they can get several prospects from a team in a pennant race that’s willing to overpay for a player because they want to win now.

Bowden is on the other side of the table now, trying to make sure he doesn’t overpay for a player his team needs, because the Washington Nationals have a chance to win. Now.

Besides, if the Nats happen to wind up in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, they have the stepson (Preston Wilson) of Mookie Wilson to send up to the plate, kicking off another 86 years of the Curse.

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