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Nats ship Willingham to A's, land two prospects

Nats ship Willingham to A's, land two prospects

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WASHINGTON -- Looking to add an arm to their bullpen and athleticism to the outfield, the Nationals traded outfielder Josh Willingham to the Athletics for outfielder Corey Brown and reliever Henry Rodriguez on Thursday.

The two clubs were talking about a deal for the past couple of days. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo insisted that money had nothing to do with Willingham getting dealt. Willingham, who made $4.6 million this past season, is arbitration-eligible; he'll become a free agent after the 2011 season. Rizzo announced last month that the team was going on a year-to-year basis with Willingham.

"There were a lot of things that went into the decision to trade Josh now," Rizzo said. "Instead of waiting until Spring Training or waiting until the Trade Deadline, we felt that this was an attractive package that we have right now.

"It was a better package than what we had at the Trade Deadline for Josh. We felt it was an opportunity for us to really cement a big-arm relief pitcher at 23 years old and a toolsy outfielder that hits from the left side."

Before the Winter Meetings, three sources told MLB.com that Willingham would be traded before the 2011 season. The Nats want to be more athletic in the outfield, and while Willingham is considered a good hitter, he is an average defensive outfielder with little speed.

Willingham had a feeling that that he was going to be dealt after the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to a seven-year contract.

"I knew when they signed Werth, I felt that if they try to get young pitching, then I would be a guy that would definitely be in trade talks," Willingham said via phone.

This past season, Willingham played in 114 games and hit .268 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs. He missed the final month and a half with a knee injury.

Another source went so far as to say that every healthy player on the Nats' roster, with the exception of Ryan Zimmerman and Werth, is being considered in trade discussions.

With Willingham gone, it means that Roger Bernadina could platoon with Michael Morse, although Willingham believes Bernadina will be a solid outfielder.

"You don't know what Bernadina is going to do at the Major League level, but he proved [last season] that he could play there," Willingham said. "They probably want to give him an opportunity."

As for Rodriguez, he is out of options and has a chance to become the team's closer in 2011. Rodriguez went 1-0 with a 4.55 ERA in 29 appearances last season with Oakland in just his second year as a full-time reliever. He posted 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings (33 K's/27 2/3 innings) and a .240 batting average against, including a .207 mark against right-handed batters.

Rodriguez recorded 11 saves with a 1.69 ERA in 20 appearances with Triple-A Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League in 2010, posting 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.44 strikeout-to-walk ratio with the River Cats.

The hard-throwing right-hander ranked fourth in the big leagues last season with an average fastball velocity of 98.45 mph.

Rodriguez, 23, is 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA in 32 career relief appearances in the Majors. A member of the World Team in the 2008 All-Star Futures Game at Yankee Stadium, he is pitching for Leones in the Venezuelan Winter League, where he has five saves with a 1.77 ERA (27 K's/20 1/3 innings) in 17 appearances.

"We feel he is a guy that could fit comfortably into our bullpen for some years to come," Rizzo said. "We see him as a person who could pitch in the back end of the game. He could set up [Drew] Storen in the eighth inning or pitch in the ninth inning. It's such a attractive alternative. It's another 23-year-old power arm that adds to our depth at that position and a guy that has a big upside."

Brown could be a year away from the Majors. He is expected to start the season with Triple-A Syracuse, but will be invited to Major League Spring Training.

He hit a combined .283 with 15 home runs, 69 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 131 games last season with Double-A Midland and Triple-A Sacramento. He was a Texas League All-Star and Topps Double-A All-Star in 90 games with Midland, hitting .320 with 10 homers, 49 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .415 on-base percentage.

Selected by Oakland in the compensation round (59th overall) in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, the 25-year-old Brown has batted .272 with 83 doubles, 21 triples, 65 home runs, 243 RBIs and 48 stolen bases in 390 games over four Minor League seasons.

"He is a big tools package. He is an athletic guy that could run, hit for power and play good defense," Rizzo said. "He is a guy that has the ability to play center field and also have the power to play both [corner-outfield spots]."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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