While the trade talk around Philadelphia has centered on Roy Halladay, the
pursuit of other pieces of the puzzle hasn't been forgotten by the Phillies
front office. Case in point is their search for a right-handed bat to bring off
the bench. That search has taken them to Washington where Josh Willingham could
be had from the Nationals for a reasonable price as the Nats look to find the
right mix of players to pull themselves out of the ranks of teams that have
challenged the Mets record of 120 losses in a season.
For their part, the Nationals have been scouting the Phillies at a couple of
different levels and seem to be focusing on starting pitching. The Nationals
have a scout following Lehigh Valley for a seven-game stretch and have had
scouts at other levels of the Phillies minor league system. One scout - not from
the Nationals organization - said that Willingham would be a nice addition to
the Phillies. "He's a solid player and could fill a nice role in
Philadelphia. They really need that big right-handed bat and Willingham would be
one of the better ones out there," said the scout.
Willingham, who turned 30 earlier this season, is hitting .284 with 12 home
runs in 246 at-bats with the Nationals this season. Over the past four seasons,
Willingham has averaged one home run for every 21 at-bats while playing for both
the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals. Defensively, Willingham has played
in both left and right field for most of his career, but has also been a catcher
and a first baseman during his major league career. While a right-handed hitter,
Willingham has a similar career average against both right-handers (.266) and
As for his contract, Willingham is making just under $3 million this season
and is eligible for arbitration for two more seasons before he becomes a free
agent. While he would be pricey for a utility player, he could find playing time
as an occasional right-handed substitute in both left field and at first base
and would give the Phillies insurance against any more injuries to Raul Ibanez.
While Ibanez is enjoying the best season of his career, at age 37, he is likely
to need a few additional days off over the next couple of seasons and is at an
age where players tend to come up with more nagging injuries, which would
potentially give Willingham a chance to gain some at bats in left field.
As a team, the Nationals are ninth in the National League in runs scored, but
have the same team batting average (.261) as the Phillies. Clearly, their need
is pitching, where they rank last in the NL in ERA with a 5.19 season mark.
Overall, they rank 20th in the majors in runs and lead only the Cleveland
Indians in ERA. The Nationals have three young starters in John Lannan, Ryan
Zimmermann and Craig Stammen and a couple of others coming through the system,
but can certainly use more young starters to plug into the rotation. Their
bullpen has been simply horrible all season long, amassing a 5.57 ERA as a group
and they have tried various combinations of pitchers to turn things around, but
simply haven't been able to find any answers.
Because of their pitching woes, Washington would likely be looking to add to
their starting rotation and/or their bullpen in any deals that they make between
now and the trade deadline on July 31. The Phillies have some organizational
depth in pitching and likely wouldn't have to dig too deeply into the mix to
find a combination of pitchers to get a deal done with Washington if they
decided to move on Willingham.
The Nationals also have Austin Kearns, who is a right-handed bat, but he's
hitting just .201 for Washington, following up on his .217 performance from last
season. Kearns is also due another $4 million dollars for this season with a $1
million buyout for the 2010 season, which would be a pricey addition, especially
considering the numbers that he's putting up for Washington. To compound the
reasons why Kearns wouldn't be a good fit is the fact that he's hitting just
.140 against left-handers this season.