- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

NEW YORK | With nearly 100 games to go in the season, the Washington Nationals’ hope of anything but abject failure is already slim. That’s not just a present reality, though. It’s also a possible mandate for a trading strategy this summer.

For a team that entered Wednesday challenging the 1962 New York Mets for the worst record in a 162-game season, the Nationals have a few movable assets - though they have even more with hefty contracts. Chief among the tradable could be first baseman Nick Johnson, whose strong start and impending free agency have already made him the subject of trade talks.

Outfielder Adam Dunn also could garner some interest, and Washington would love to move outfielder Austin Kearns and his $8 million salary. Shortstop Cristian Guzman’s two-year, $16 million deal also might be prohibitive to a team interested in his .315 average.

At least on Wednesday, however, acting general manager Mike Rizzo wasn’t willing to outline how the Nationals will navigate through the trade waters this summer.

“There’s no definitive timeline for doing anything,” Rizzo said. “Like I’ve always said, we’re always open to make good baseball deals at any time during the season. The corresponding move would be to bring up one of our minor leaguers to take that spot if the trade doesn’t fulfill our major league need.”

O’Connor traded

Left-handed pitcher Mike O’Connor, who has been with the organization since 2002, was traded to the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night for a player to be named later, Rizzo said.

“We were looking out for him. We didn’t want to send him back to [Class AA],” Rizzo said. “We felt this was the best course of action, not only for us but for him, too.”

O’Connor made 20 starts for the Nationals in 2006, but elbow surgery wiped out most of his 2007 season, and he made only five major league appearances in 2008.

The chief reason for the trade was to clear a spot in a Class AAA Syracuse rotation that has suddenly become crowded. The Nationals have three pitchers - Collin Balester, Garrett Mock and Marco Estrada - who are likely September call-ups once young pitchers like Ross Detwiler, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmermann hit preset innings limits later this year and are shut down.

“Each of the three young guys - Martis, Detwiler and Zimmermann - I think it’s a different number for each guy,” Rizzo said. “It could be as soon as 140 innings. It could be 170 innings depending on the experience and the workload.”

When Matt Chico returns from elbow surgery and Scott Olsen’s return from elbow tendinitis bumps Craig Stammen or Detwiler from the big league rotation, the Nationals will need space at Syracuse.

Storen activated Thursday

Drew Storen, the Nationals’ second first-round pick, will be activated on Class A Hagerstown’s roster on Thursday, Rizzo said.

He could debut for the Suns in the next few days, but the Nationals will take their time with the former Stanford closer, who signed for a $1.6 million bonus a day after Washington made him the No. 10 overall pick.

The Nationals envision him as a future closer, but their plan for now is to ease him into the professional game.

“Because he’s been off for almost three weeks now, we’re going to build him up and get him on a throwing program so he can pitch 100 percent game-ready,” Rizzo said.

• Ben Goessling can be reached at bgoessling@washingtontimes.com.

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