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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Meet the Press with Willingham and Olsen

The Washington Nationals held a press conference today at Nationals Park to introduce OF Josh Willingham and LHP Scott Olsen, acquired Wednesday night for 2B Emilio Bonifacio and minor leaguers RHP P.J. Dean and SS Jake Smolinski. General Manager Jim Bowden, Assistant GM Mike Rizzo and Special Assistant Bob Boone were also in attendance.

Some highlights:
  • Willingham on his position:
    "I'm a left fielder as far as I know."
  • Bowden on Willingham's position:
    "We acquired him as a corner outfielder, not as a first baseman."

  • Olsen on his fluctuating velocity last season:

"I missed a week and a half of spring training which kind of set my throwing program back which might have been arm strength that wasn’t able to get built up like it had been. "

  • Bowden on the message this trade sends to the fans and to the team:
"This is a huge message to send to the Washington Nationals' fans."
Here's the full transcript. If you just want my commentary, it's at the bottom.

Bowden: The Washington Nationals want to wish everyone a happy Veteran's Day. We chose to trade three minor leaguers for two veterans on Veteran's Day. Last Wednesday at the General Managers' meeting we completed a five-player trade with the Florida Marlins. Late last night we concluded the trade: the Washington Nationals acquiring 24-year old left handed pitcher Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham. This continues our plan to build an organization for the long term. We believe Scott, a young left handed starting pitcher that pitched over 200 innings last year, 190 the year before, continues to improve, developed a third pitch this year, his changeup, to go along with his fastball and his slider and certainly we feel he has the chance to be a major part of our rotation for a long time. Josh Willingham gives you a tremendous at bat every time up, in fact he's sixth in the major leagues for right hand hitters with 4.1 pitches per at bat. He can hit the tough pitcher and the tough pitch. Really knows how to give a good at bat. Both these guys are winners. We're very very pleased to introduce them to you today. And we'll start with Josh Willingham.

Willingham: I'll just say that I'm happy to be a Washington National. Florida was the only organization that I knew. I was drafted in 2000 by them and had developed good relationships and they gave me the opportunity to play at the big league level for the first time. So I have a lot of good things to say about that organization and very grateful for the opportunity that they gave me. Moving forward this is a brand new opportunity that I'm looking forward to. I know some of the guys on this team, met everybody, everybody's been great. I'm really looking forward to moving forward with the Nationals. You talk about the plan they have for this team and I'm going to believe in it. You know what you'll get from me. I'm going to play hard every day. I love playing the game, I think that's the most important part. Just to have an opportunity to play in this stadium of this caliber, it's brand new and think it's going to be a good opportunity and I'm looking forward to it and I appreciate the opportunity.

Olsen: Very similar story to Josh. I got drafted by the Marlins and that's all I've ever known. I've never been traded before so this is all new for me and meeting all the new people here, everybody's been great. It's the same game no matter where you're at and I look forward to playing here and being a National and try to win. That's the bottom line is you want to win ballgames. And with the group we have we're going to go out and play hard and hopefully we're going to be able to do that.

Olsen (on confidence): I developed a third pitch which helped tremendously. Coming into 2005 and 2006 I really only had a fastball/slider and it worked well for a year. I never had enough confidence in the changeup until about half way through 2007 and then in 2008 I started throwing it a lot. I finally found a grip I liked. A lot of it was just having confidence in the fact that if you throw it where you want to threw it you're going to get a good result. My confidence got built up with that pitch and it really turned things around for me.

Olsen (on being the ace): You want to be the ace no matter where you're at. I think that at least for me I apply myself so that I can be out there every five days. I don't like missing any starts and as part of an ace that's what you've got to do. I'm sure I'm not the only one of people in the rotation that want to be that. I expect an open competition and we'll see in spring training what happens since it's not my decision.

Olsen (on what it will take to get to the next level): I hope there's another level. I would like to think you're never satisfied with the year. As a pitcher you pretty much aren't going to go 33-0 so there's always room for improving and you just try to do that. You watch tapes and you try to improve on any small aspect or big aspect of the game to help you win. But I hope there's another level up there.

Olsen (on his fluctuating velocity last year): Honestly, I have no idea. I got a lot of questions about my velocity early on in the year. I was pitching pretty well early on and it didn't seem to affect anything. I missed a week and a half of ST which kind of set my throwing program back which might have been arm strength that wasn’t able to get built up like it had been. Over the course [of the season] by September your arm strength is there so the velocity comes back. I think, presuming we stay healthy, I don't think that'll be an issue.

Willingham (on his position): I've played a lot of positions. I'm a left fielder as far as I know. The past three years that’s where I've played exclusively. I've done some catching before and was in infielder before that. I'm comfortable in left field now. I can play other positions but that something I haven't discussed.

Bowden (on Willingham's position): We acquired him as a corner outfielder, not as a first baseman.

Bowden (on trading for vets): It shows the commitment from ownership and from Stan Kasten, our president. We're really determined on winning for our fans. This is a huge message to send to the Washington Nationals' fans. But remember, these guys are still very young, they’re in their 20's so we control them for three more years. This was not a trade and rent-a-player for a year. These are two players that can spend a long time playing here. We're all embarrassed by the season we had last year. Its strictly unacceptable. You want to talk about injuries or lack of depth or whatever it was--it's embarrassing and except for the first pick overall we're getting in June, we don't ever want to have that happen again. We're on a mission to continue the plan and bring winning baseball back here to Washington.

Bowden (on 2B job): Manny Acta will make that decision. Those decisions will happen once we get to spring training, not now. There's a lot that can happen between now and then. Certainly we were impressed with what Anderson did here in September. He hit over .300 for us (ed. .333/.407/.383 with no home runs and 17 RBI in 81 at bats for DC last season), drove some runs in. He's gone to winter ball and he's hitting .400 over there (ed. .404/.432/.629 with one home run and 15 RBI and four steals in 89 at bats). Our reports are tremendous on what he's done there. We remember that he led the Pacific Coast League in hits the year before. So maybe he's just starting to mature, come into his own and he's certainly someone that's going to be given consideration.

Bowden (on OF sorting out): I'm always a big fan of competition. Whenever you have depth you also have means to make other deals to make your team better in other areas. Those are decisions Manny will make when we get to spring training and have our team set at that point.

Willingham (on trade rumors): You knew there were going to be some deals made because of the significant number of players that were going to be going to arbitration. As far as who, you didn't know who. I think they [the Marlins] made it pretty obvious that they were going to make some deals. I didn't have a clue if I was going to be in it until last night.

Olsen (on trade rumors): I had a pretty good idea that I was going to be moved, just based on the situation and all the starting pitchers that they had in Florida. I had a feeling, it was just a matter of where and when it was all going to be finalized.

Olsen (on maturing): I knew something had to change. It just started off slow and you just try to keep yourself out of situations where there might be a problem. I think that's the biggest thing with this maturing and everything that everybody claims that I've done. It think it comes down to one thing and that's just don't be in a situation where something might happen.

Rizzo (on Bonifacio): He's an exciting player, but you have to give to get. To get a 24 year old starting pitcher and an established power corner player you have to give up some things to get them and Bonifacio was certainly something that was painful to give up, as were the two young players. But in this industry, to land a position player and a pitcher of their ability levels you have to give up something.

Bowden (on financial flexibility): We have flexibility. There's no question that Stan [Kasten] and ownership want to build an organization that can win not just in the short term but the long term, and we're continuing along that same plan--that's not going to be changed because one year that we had. If there was a free agent that fit into those long-term plans, that’s a possibility. I think our preference is always to build through the draft and trades. All of us agree that’s the best way to do it, but will we look at other avenues and free agency, of course. It would be stultifying not to.

Bowden (on team morale): It shows that you have a commitment to winning. A commitment that we're going to continue to go in the right direction and we're not just going to wait for the farm system to develop players here. We said when we were building up our development and scouting that one of the means of using it would be for trading, and we've lived up to that. Without that great scouting…this trade doesn't happen for us.

Willingham (on his back injuries): The back is good. It's been good since I was able to come back and play, I guess late June -- I don't know the exact day I came back. I was healthy, it just took me a little while to get going when I came back and it's been good every since. You never know what's going to happen, but it's something that I'm a lot more comfortable managing myself. I met with a lot of doctors and it's something that we've got definite plan when something flares up.

So there you have it, for better or worse. There's already a lot that's been written about this deal, and I'm sure that there will be many more volumes as well. The deal makes next year's team better and I don't think they gave up all that much to accomplish that. Bowden's larger message is that the organization realizes that the fan base is going to shrink and that they HAD TO address the talent level on the major league roster, what Nats fans pay to watch.

Are Willingham and Olsen all-stars? Probably not. We pretty much know was Willingham is, barring a Ryan Ludwick-type explosion. Olsen? He's just 24. He's got three full seasons in the bigs. His velocity returned in September. He still hasn't entered his physical prime.

I'm not going to harp on the team for deviating from "The Plan" like some of my brethren. They didn't trade anyone away that was going to be part of the "first great Nats team". They aren't blocking anyone that should be playing. To the contrary, Olsen will allow Martis and Zimmermann to stay in the minors where they belong for another season.

The Nats got two completely average major league players for a utility infielder and two fringy low minors prospects. Love it or leave it.

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