- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO | When they arrived in Northern California late Sunday night, the Washington Nationals didn’t know who their starting middle infielders would be in 2009 and beyond.

By the time their series against the San Francisco Giants opened Tuesday night, they answered both questions in emphatic fashion.

With a pair of transactions - the trade of closer Jon Rauch to the Arizona Diamondbacks for 23-year-old second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and the re-signing of shortstop Cristian Guzman to a two-year, $16 million extension - the Nationals have positioned themselves up the middle for the future.

The immediate ramifications may not be positive. Rauch, who led the majors in relief appearances in 2006 and 2007 and saved 17 games this year in place of injured closer Chad Cordero, was perhaps Washington’s only trusted arm out of the bullpen. Joel Hanrahan, who has never closed before and became a reliever just this spring, takes over the role.

But for a team that has made it clear it will sacrifice short-term success for long-term benefit, Tuesday’s flurry of moves weren’t surprising.

“Hard to trade Jon Rauch,” general manager Jim Bowden said. “I love Jon Rauch. Very difficult. But you have to trade a reliever when you have a chance to get an everyday position player who’s 23 in our long-term plan.”

The Nationals had scouted Bonifacio for some time and had begun discussing the parameters of this deal a year ago. After seeing him earlier this month at Nationals Park and hearing glowing reviews from assistant GM Mike Rizzo (who originally signed the player out of the Dominican Republic), Bowden considered it the right time to make the move.

A .283 hitter with 229 stolen bases in six minor league seasons, Bonifacio becomes Washington’s long-term solution at second base. Though he will start out at Class AAA Columbus, club officials believe he will be promoted before this season ends and will hold a key role with the Nationals soon after.

“He’ll be our second baseman next year,” Bowden said.

The Nationals envision Bonifacio as their eventual leadoff man, hoping the switch-hitter can use his speed, bunting ability and defensive skills to become a mainstay in the lineup.

“This guy is going to be a dynamic type of player,” said Rizzo, who described him as perhaps the fastest player in baseball. “I think he’s really just scratched the surface.”

To acquire Bonifacio, the Nationals parted ways with one of the lone stalwarts of their struggling bullpen. Rauch, 29, had been the workhorse of the staff for three seasons and proved his value this year when he stepped into the closer’s role after Cordero suffered a major shoulder injury.

The 6-foot-11 right-hander likely will serve as a setup man for Brandon Lyon with the Diamondbacks, who are tied for first place in the National League West despite a 49-50 record.

“I don’t think it could have worked out any better,” Rauch told reporters in Arizona. “I’m extremely excited to be here and be a part of it and just hope I can help the club win.”

The Nationals believe Guzman can help their club win for the next two years and thus rewarded the All-Star shortstop with an extension that pays him $8 million apiece in 2009 and 2010. Guzman nearly will double his salary from the past four seasons; even so, Washington may have gotten a bargain in locking up the 30-year-old for fewer years and less money than he might have commanded as a free agent this winter.

“We looked at all the alternatives out there at shortstop for the next two years, potential free agents, potential trades,” Bowden said. “We felt Cristian was the best possibility that we had to put at shortstop for the next two years.”

Negotiations between the two sides had been going on for about two months, and Guzman said he didn’t want talks to become a distraction.

“I took this deal because I want to stay here,” he said. “They gave me the deal I want. Why do I have to wait? They gave me the deal I want, so that’s why I [took] it.”

As part of Tuesday’s flurry of roster moves, the Nationals also recalled right-hander Garrett Mock from Columbus. Mock, who made his first two big league starts earlier this summer, will be used out of the bullpen for now.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide