Thursday, April 6, 2006

NEW YORK — The Washington Nationals opened the season with a payroll of $63,267,500, more than a $14million increase from 2005 but still among the bottom half of major league clubs.

The Nationals rank 20th among baseball’s 30 teams in Opening Day payrolls, one year after ranking 23rd with $48,581,500 committed to player salaries.

The New York Yankees again top the sport at nearly $199 million, with the Boston Red Sox ($120million) a distant second. The Florida Marlins ($14.998 million) have the game’s smallest payroll by more than $20 million.

The average major leaguer’s salary in 2006 is $2.866 million, an all-time high and up nearly 9 percent from a year ago. The Nationals’ average salary is $2.109 million.

Most of Washington’s payroll increase was a result of the trade that brought Alfonso Soriano to town and sent Brad Wilkerson and others to Texas. Soriano is the team’s highest-paid player at $10 million, which is tied for 57th among all major leaguers.

Right-hander Livan Hernandez ranks second on the club with an $8 million salary, followed by second baseman Jose Vidro, who makes $7 million.

The Nationals’ payroll includes the 25 active players on the Opening Day roster, plus five players who began the season on the disabled list. Shortstop Cristian Guzman, right-handers Brian Lawrence, Ryan Drese and Luis Ayala and utilityman Robert Fick, all injured, account for $11.725 million of the club’s payroll.

The Baltimore Orioles rank 15th in baseball with a payroll of $72,585,713.

Cheney to throw pitch

Vice President Dick Cheney, not President George W. Bush, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday’s home opener at RFK Stadium, the Nationals announced yesterday.

Many had expected Bush to perform the first-pitch duties again after participating at last year’s inaugural home opener, but he already threw the first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds’ opener Monday.

Cheney will become the fifth vice president to throw out the first pitch in Washington, the first since Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968.

“The Nationals are pleased to continue the time-honored baseball tradition in our nation’s capital and welcome the vice president to RFK Stadium,” team president Tony Tavares said.

The club also announced plans for a pregame FanFest on the D.C. Armory Mall before the home opener. The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., is free for anyone holding a ticket to the game against the New York Mets.

Medical staff named

The Nationals named Ben Shaffer as team orthopedist for the 2006 season, replacing Wiemi Douoguih.

Shaffer also serves as the Capitals’ physician and is a consultant to the Wizards, Mystics and the PGA Tour. He was director of sports medicine at Georgetown from 1992 to 2000.

Washington also announced it has retained Bruce Thomas as team physician and medical director. Thomas has been with the franchise since 2003 and before that spent nine years with the Florida Marlins.

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