- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Washington Nationals took the first of what could be several bold steps to try to rebound from a dismal 2008 by acquiring two players from the Florida Marlins on Monday night who should make an immediate impact in 2009.

Multiple baseball sources confirmed the Nationals will receive slugger Josh Willingham and left-hander Scott Olsen in a trade that is expected to send second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and minor leaguers P.J. Dean and Jake Smolinski to the Marlins.

Washington officials would not comment, but Matt Sosnick (the agent for both Willingham and Olsen) confirmed the deal. A press conference is planned for Tuesday to introduce the players, who became available because of their rising salaries.

Both Willingham, 29, and Olsen, 24, are eligible for arbitration this winter for the first time. They both made $405,000 this season and could earn anywhere from six to 10 times that much in 2009.

Willingham averaged 24 homers and 82 RBI his first two full seasons, though his numbers slipped in 2008 when a chronic back injury limited him to 102 games. Doctors told him he would not need surgery for a herniated disc, but the injury remains a concern.

A catcher when he debuted in 2004, Willingham played left field almost exclusively during his time with the Marlins. He does, however, have experience at first base, a position of greater need for the Nationals.

“The positive of it is it’s a new opportunity,” he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “They have a nice ballpark and stuff like that.”

Olsen is 31-37 with a 4.63 ERA in 102 career games, but he has made at least 31 starts in each of his three full seasons and is considered a workhorse who could compete for the Opening Day assignment. (Coincidentally, Washington plays at Florida on April 6.)

Olsen’s competitive nature, though, has gotten him into trouble. He got into fights with teammates on more than one occasion and was suspended two games by the club after one altercation. He was fined for making an obscene gesture at fans in Milwaukee. He also was arrested for DUI in 2007 in an incident in which officers used a Taser to subdue him.

All of those problems occurred before the 2008 season, when Olsen did not get into trouble.

Bonifacio is a speedy 23-year-old who was declared Washington’s second baseman of the future upon his July acquisition from Arizona for closer Jon Rauch. But he hit just .248 in 41 games and lost some playing time to Anderson Hernandez. Hernandez and veteran Ronnie Belliard become the organization’s top second basemen for 2009.

Dean, a right-hander, and Smolinski, an outfielder, were each drafted in 2007. They were highly thought of within the organization but remain years from reaching the big leagues after spending 2008 at the lower levels of Class A.

Note - The Nationals purchased the contracts of three minor leaguers: right-hander Luis Atilano, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielder Leonard Davis. All three were added to the 40-man roster, protecting them from being selected by another organization in next month’s Rule 5 draft. After the trade with Florida, the Nationals will have 39 players on their 40-man roster.

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