- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nationals right fielder Jose Guillen will undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow this morning, all but ending his playing days in Washington.

General manager Jim Bowden said Guillen, a pending free agent at the end of the season, suffered a complete tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and could be out anywhere from eight to 18 months.

That proved to be the biggest development on a news-heavy day for a Nationals organization that was officially handed over from Major League Baseball to the Lerner family, which then formally hired Mike Rizzo as assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations while at the same time trying to deflect rumors of a pending trade involving slugger Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano, the prime target of at least four other clubs as next week’s trade deadline approaches, remained the Nationals’ starting left fielder last night despite an ESPN report that claimed Bowden was “extremely close” to a deal with the Chicago White Sox.

That report, according to multiple baseball sources, was premature. The Nationals and White Sox have been in discussions over Soriano, with 23-year-old right-hander Brandon McCarthy a candidate to come to Washington, but no deal had been finalized last night, and several others teams (including the Detroit Tigers) still considered themselves in the running.

“All I can tell you is that we do not have a deal in place with any team as of this hour on any player,” Bowden said during an afternoon conference call announcing Rizzo’s hiring. “That’s the only comment I’m going to have.”

Speculation about Soriano’s future has reached new heights in recent days, but baseball sources said they still expect the Nationals to wait until much closer to the July 31 trade deadline before consummating a deal. Some around baseball believed yesterday’s White Sox rumor to be a ploy on both teams’ part to try to raise the asking price for Soriano, who leads the majors with 237 total bases and is tied for fourth with 31 homers.

The White Sox could get into a bidding war with the division rival Tigers over Soriano, with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels also still in the mix.

The Nationals have known for the last week they wouldn’t be trading Guillen anywhere after the 30-year-old outfielder went on the disabled list with a sore right elbow. Yesterday, the club learned he will need major reconstructive surgery that could jeopardize his career.

Guillen was examined in Birmingham, Ala., by orthopedic specialist James Andrews, who diagnosed a UCL that was “torn completely in half,” according to Bowden. Andrews will operate on Guillen this morning, performing a procedure commonly done to pitchers but rarely to position players.

That makes the timetable for his return uncertain. The last major league position player to undergo Tommy John surgery, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis, returned to the field in nine months but has since suffered a setback.

In a best-case scenario, Guillen might be ready for spring training, though it’s unlikely he would be in Nationals camp. The club doesn’t figure to re-sign him this winter after his contract expires, though it will remain responsible for his medical care until he joins another team.

“This is not the time to be talking about his future,” Bowden said. “As far as our organization is concerned, what we care about right now is his health, and we pray for a successful surgery [today].”

Guillen, who hit only .216 with nine homers and 40 RBI in 69 games this season, first started complaining of elbow pain earlier this month. It appears the ligament already was partially torn at that point before he completely tore it last Tuesday when he made a wild throw between third base and the plate against the Marlins in Florida.

Word of Guillen’s pending surgery came just hours after the Nationals organization received perhaps its best news since relocating from Montreal in October 2004: The club’s new owners are now officially in control.

Ted Lerner, the 80-year-old local real estate developer who was awarded the team in May, and his partners wired $450 million to MLB to complete a sale transaction that spanned more than four years.

Lerner now carries the title of managing principal owner of the Nationals. His son, Mark, and sons-in-law Ed Cohen and Robert Tanenbaum are principal owners. The four will join president Stan Kasten in making all major decisions about the team.

“It has long been my dream to bring the national pastime back to my hometown, the nation’s capital,” Ted Lerner said. “Now that it’s been realized, I plan on doing everything I can to make sure that this franchise becomes an international jewel for MLB, the city and the nation.”

The Nationals’ new owners wasted no time pursuing that goal yesterday, officially hiring Rizzo to a front-office position that makes the 45-year-old one of Bowden’s right-hand men.

A highly touted scouting director for seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Rizzo will be involved in all aspects of Washington’s baseball operations department and will oversee three top officials: director of amateur scouting Dana Brown, plus two new positions (director of professional scouting and director of international scouting) that have yet to be filled.

The plan, using the resources added to the organization by the Lerners, is to rebuild a player development system that had been stripped down during MLB’s ownership of the club.

“All we’re trying to do here is win,” Bowden said. “And the more good minds we have working, the faster and quicker we can make better decisions and the faster we can have more success here.”

Rizzo, who joins assistant GMs Tony Siegle and Bob Boone as Bowden’s top advisers, intends to help the organization spread its reach beyond American borders in search of baseball talent with an eye on Latin America and the Far East.

“There’s no place too far, no travel itinerary too rough for us not to go and figure out better ways to implement players to put into our ballpark in Washington, D.C.,” Rizzo said.

Staff writer Tim Lemke contributed to this article.

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