- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A franchise that has been saying for years that it intends to build a contender from within by stockpiling young players, the Washington Nationals seemed to alter their grand plan with a trade that yielded established major leaguers Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen - and sent three prospects to Florida.

But as general manager Jim Bowden pointed out Tuesday afternoon, there’s more than one way to build a club.

“We’re not going to just wait for the farm system to develop players here,” Bowden said during a news conference at Nationals Park. “We said when we were building up our development and scouting that one of the means of using that would be for trades. We’ve lived up to that.”

Sending second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, right-hander P.J. Dean and infielder Jake Smolinski to Florida, the Nationals swapped minor leaguers for major leaguers. More importantly, the organization believes Willingham and Olsen will make an immediate and long-lasting impact.

Olsen, who has three years of big league experience but won’t be 25 until January, has been regarded as a potential ace. Willingham, who turns 30 in February but also is entering just his fourth full season, is regarded as a patient hitter who has twice cracked the 20-homer barrier.

Neither can become a free agent until after the 2011 season.

“This was not trade and rent a player for a year,” Bowden said. “These are two players that can fit in the long-term plan here.”

Where exactly do they fit in? Olsen immediately becomes a member of Washington’s rotation and has aspirations of being on the mound Opening Day against his former team.

“I pride myself on the fact that I can be out there every five days,” said the left-hander, who has made at least 31 starts each of the past three seasons. “As an ace, I think that’s what you have to do.”

Willingham, who played some first base in the minors, debuted with the Marlins as a catcher and then settled into left field, will remain a corner outfielder in Washington, Bowden said. The right-handed hitter was limited to 102 games this season because of a herniated disc in his lower back, but Nationals team doctors examined him in the past week and deemed him healthy. A popular clubhouse presence in Florida, Willingham sounded like he’s ready to step right in.

“You know what you’re going to get from me: I’m going to play hard every day,” he said. “I love playing the game.”

With Bonifacio out of the picture, the Nationals turn to Anderson Hernandez, Ronnie Belliard and perhaps Alberto Gonzalez to compete for the second base job. They also are looking at an outfield logjam, with Willingham joining Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena and Willie Harris.

A franchise that just completed a 59-102 season isn’t complaining about that.

“I’m always a big fan of competition,” Bowden said. “I think competition always exists on teams that are good.”

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