Nats waste little time improving 'pen

Nats waste little time improving 'pen

INDIANAPOLIS -- During the first day of the Winter Meetings, the Nationals were arguably the busiest team. Early on Monday, they made a move to improve their bullpen, acquiring reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees for a player to be named.

Bruney, who has a power arm, will be one of the late-inning relievers for Washington. Last season, he was 5-0 with a 3.92 ERA.

"He is a great stuff guy," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He has had great success in the highest level of competition. He pitched not only in New York pressure, but playoff pressure. He numbers speak for themselves. He is up there in the upper echelon of relief pitchers. We feel he is going to be one of our back-end bullpen guys."

Rizzo said he is trying to acquire more relief pitching. A few weeks ago, it was learned that the Nationals had interest in left-hander Mike Gonzalez, who saved 10 games and had a 2.42 ERA for the Braves this past season.

"We are always trying to get better," Rizzo said. "We certainly don't think we're where we need to be right now. The bullpen was a point of emphasis. We are still looking."

To make room for Bruney, the Nationals released Saul Rivera, who had his worst year with Washington this past season. The right-hander pitched in 30 games and had a 6.10 ERA. There was a time when Rivera was a workhorse for the Nationals, averaging 80 appearances per season from 2007-08.

Rizzo acknowledged it was a hard decision to cut Rivera.

"He had his struggles for us this year," Rizzo said. "It's really a compliment to where our system is right now, where we have to make decisions like taking Saul off the roster. It shows the depth of our system. It wouldn't have happened three or four years ago."

By the end of the day, the Nationals signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a two-year, $6 million deal. Washington did not confirm the report.

Rodriguez, 38, will serve as a backup and mentor to Jesus Flores, who is expected to be ready for Spring Training after having surgery on his right shoulder and right elbow, according to Rizzo.

Rizzo didn't mention Rodriguez during his Monday session with the local media, but he spoke about the type of backstop he wanted.

"We want a catcher that could fill in as an everyday guy on the short term, but could morph into a mentor/teacher for Flores," Rizzo said. "We have been consistent with that all the time. We are still looking for that guy. We are not sure if he is out there, but we are really checking into it."

Of the position players on the Nationals' roster, left fielder Josh Willingham has drawn the most interest. Teams such as the Mets, Giants, Mariners and Braves are reportedly interested in acquiring his services.

But it appears Rizzo is not in a rush to trade his right-handed-hitting slugger.

"Willingham is a great makeup guy," Rizzo said. "He is a guy that we are not looking to move. We would only move him if it improves our ballclub. We are going to look at all avenues on all players. But Josh would be a difficult guy to move."

The Nationals are looking for a veteran pitcher to help their young rotation, and Jon Garland may be a good fit. He is an innings-eater and has won 117 games in 10 big league seasons. This past season, Garland, 30, pitched for the D-backs and Dodgers, going 11-13 with a 4.01 ERA in 33 starts.

"We have interest in Jon Garland. We have the whole time," Rizzo said. "He is one of the 10 names we have talked about the whole winter."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.