Ken Rosenthal is reporting this morning that the Washington Nationals have traded Josh Willingham to the Oakland Athletics for two minor leaguers, one of whom has some major league experience. However, no word yet as to who they are.
Though I have enjoyed watching Josh play for the Nationals for the past two seasons, it makes perfect sense to move him now, a year before free agency.
First, he was physically fragile before coming to Washington and nothing has changed since he became a National. Willingham has averaged just 127 games per season for his career and that number has dropped in his two seasons with the Nationals.
There is no certainty that he will ever be able to play a full season.
Secondly, his defense is modest at best. The Nationals are trying to become more athletic and defensively minded, and right now he just doesn't fit general manager Mike Rizzo's vision of a quick and athletic team.
Third, Rizzo has said many times that Roger Bernadina has "Barry Bonds" defense in left field but is just "okay" in center and right. Also, Michael Morse hit 15 home runs in just 266 at bats last season; there is little doubt that if given the chance, Morse could play every day in left and produce Willingham-esque numbers, something along the lines of .280/24/80.
Further, Morse reminds me a lot of Jayson Werth four seasons ago. They have the same build, are both high-average hitters and show a great deal of power. He could blossome into a star slugger if given the opportunity.
Rizzo said yesterday that center fielder Nyjer Morgan will only play against righties in 2011 (he has a lifetime .200 batting average against lefties) and would move Jayson Werth to center against lefties. That would provide several different options with Bernadina and Morse at the corner positions.
Lastly, Willingham earned $4.6 million last season and will probably earn close to $6 million in 2011 through arbitration. If Rizzo can jettison that money, he will be in a better position to sign first baseman Adam LaRoche, whose offensive production is a little better than Willingham's.
I love Josh Willingham, but he is not a long-term piece to the Nationals' puzzle. The question is, who did the team get in return? I mean, "two minor leaguers" is a little vague at this point.