It's not often that a transaction is made by Jim Bowden, and I think "wow, what a steal!". But that's exactly what I thought earlier this month when I saw he had conned Florida into giving up LHP Scott Olsen and 1b/OFJosh Willingham for 2b Emilio Bonifacio, and minor leaguers 2b Jake Smolinski and RHP P.J. Dean.
Olsen and Willingham aren't perfect, and they both have serious question marks, but for Florida to give them up for this cheap a package is unfathomable to me. Bowden was widely panned for his acquisition of Bonifacio when that was all he received for RHP Jon Rauch from Arizona at the deadline.
Olsen does come with maturity concerns, but it's important to note that he has started at least 30 games in each of his three seasons. While his stuff was slightly down last year, he posted a reasonable line of 8-11, 4.20. He only struck out 113 in 202 innings, but he's a back of the rotation starter at worst in the NL. In this Nationals rotation he's more of an ace though, considering their best pitcher last year was Odalis Perez.
The Nationals say they acquired Willingham to be part of the outfield, and that might give them their most productive lineup if 1b Nick Johnson is healthy. However, Johnson is rarely ever healthy and Willingham provides depth at that position. Willingham won't hit for much of an average, but has good power and will get on base at a decent clip as evidenced by his .266/.361/.472 career slash stats. One might expect his power to get a little bump going from Pro Player Stadium to his new home in Washington, D.C.
Bonifacio is the "big" piece that the Marlins are receiving in this deal, and quite frankly, no one should be impressed. He's got great speed on the basepaths, and good range in the field but he doesn't have a bat or good hands to go with those tools. Bonifacio's value will be tied for his ability to hit for average as he did not walk much in his first go 'round with the Nationals. I was actually witness to his first two walks as a National, and it took him 10 games and around 40 at-bats to achieve such a feat.
Smolinski was the Nationals 2nd round pick in 2007 and has transitioned from Shortstop to Left Field, before going to 2b in 2008. He has been injury prone as a professional, breaking his foot on a foul ball in his first season and later tearing both his ACL and MCL in a collision, in addition to suffering a broken thumb earlier this year. It's highly possible however that Smolinski ends up giving Florida the biggest return out of the three players they received in this deal. P.J. Dean was also a 7th round pick, and here is what Baseball America had to say about him:
The Nationals' 2007 seventh-round pick from New Caney (Texas) High—Adam Dunn's alma mater—Dean saw both his stuff and results improve in 2008. He went 4-1, 1.57 for short-season Vermont, compiling 34 strikeouts and 16 walks in 46 innings. The 20-year-old Dean, who could add velocity as he builds to his 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame—already sits 91-92 mph, with life, and touches 94. Presently, his hard curveball and changeup both rate as average.
All in all this looks like a huge win for Jim Bowden and the Nationals. By taking on slightly more money they dramatically improve their lineup and pitching staff, and get themselves some much needed depth. This Nationals team isn't moving from the cellar of the NL East soon, but it's encouraging to see them move in the right direction after extending the likes of Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young, failing to capitalize on Rauch, and Chad Cordero and then botching the Aaron Crow selection.