Phillies Have Interest In Nats' Willingham

(Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

With the trade deadline just ten days away, the clock is ticking for big moves to be made as the season suddenly gets very serious. The Phillies may have found a solution to their right-handed bat issue just down I-95 in the nation's capital.

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 left-handers (.269).

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.


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