On December 16th 2010, the Nationals announced that they had traded left fielder Josh Willingham, a year before his contract expired, for fireball reliever Henry Rodriguez and outfield prospect Corey Brown. Although the initial reaction to the trade was in favor of the Nationals, after a full season and the start of this season, it has become clear that losing a consistent left fielder has hurt a lot.
Shortly after Willingham left for Oakland, the Nationals were left searching for a replacement. The most immediate was Michael Morse after an amazing spring training, but early in the season he was moved to first base to replace Adam LaRoche. Off-season pick-up Laynce Nix stepped in and produced a mediocre season with a .250/.299/.451 slash line and 16 homeruns. About half way through the season, the Nationals traded for Jonny Gomes to split time with Nix. Gomes produced even worse than his projections with a .204 batting average and three homeruns in 43 games.
Combined, Gomes and Nix, didn’t come close to producing what Willingham did with the A’s in 2011. In 136 games, Willingham hit a career high 29 homeruns with 98 RBI. While he only had a .246 batting average, he had a .332 on base percentage as well as a .477 slugging percentage. While Willingham probably would have been an expensive bench player early in the season for the Nationals, he would have made a huge impact when given the chance if he even put up close to the numbers like he did in Oakland.
Once again this season, another injury, this time to Michael Morse, has left the left field position open for the first month or two. Again two pick-ups, veterans Mark DeRosa and Xavier Nady, are taking the majority of the time. While both have a great presence in the clubhouse, both have started the season absolutely horribly at the dish. DeRosa in 30 at bats has accumulated only three hits while Nady has six hits in 40 at bats. Combined they have a single homerun with three RBI. Josh Willingham, on the other hand, just won AL Player of the Week. In his first 15 games, he has hit five homeruns with 12 RBI and a .339 batting average. Although the Nationals have gotten off to a hot start, Willingham’s offensive production couldn’t have hurt.
Corey Brown and Henry Rodriguez are the only two players who can make up for the loss of production the Nationals suffered last season. Brown virtually has no shot. For the next couple of years Werth, Harper, and Morse will most likely lock up every outfield position. Prospects Brian Goodwin and Eury Perez are higher on the team’s prospect depth chart than Brown, too.
With that, Rodriguez is really the only one who has a chance. In 2011, he put up decent numbers with a 3.56 ERA in 65.2 innings, but had a major problem with control until September. He walked 45 batters and threw 14 wild pitches that led to a 1.508 WHIP. This season he has continued where he left off. In 7.1 innings, he has only given up one unearned run leading to a 0.00 ERA. He has also stepped in to the closer role with Drew Storen injured and has saved four games. Rodriguez truly has the stuff to become one of the best relievers in the game. If he can keep his production consistent in the long run his pitching will most likely make up for what the Nationals lost in Josh Willingham.
At the time of the trade, not one person expected the devastating injuries that the Nationals endured throughout the 2010-2011 season. It was very unfortunate that the Nationals executed the trade when they did. Keeping a hold of Willingham would have helped the Nationals significantly, but no one could have ever predicted what he put together this past year. Ultimately the trade was made for the future of the ball club. If Henry Rodriguez can continue putting together great numbers, the Nationals will continue to succeed as a team that relies on pitching and Willingham will be a distant memory.
My son and I loved the Hammer, but sometimes trades fill needs for both teams. The Nats could use Willingham's bat, but the glove is weaker, much weaker than when he was in DC in 2010. He is on the downside of his career, but red-hot now. Brown may yet become a good CF or 4th OF, more athletic and versatile than Hammer. Overall, it's a 50-50 trade, but no one ripped off the Nats as Willingham only played one season in Oakland and then went FA, where any of 30 teams could have had him. You can't predict injuries to LaRoche and Morse. If both are healthy, where does Hammer play? As a FA he wasn't staying in DC to pinch-hit 5 times a week! Anyway, good article, good look back at a good issue!
I want to thank everyone for all your comments, I truly love discussing this with fans who really care about the Nationals ball club. This is the most reaction I've ever had to an article, mainly because it goes against a popular thought. I'm going to try to respond to every comment possible, if I don't get to yours then I'm sorry.
<i>It was very unfortunate that the Nationals executed the trade when they did. Keeping a hold of Willingham would have helped the Nationals significantly, but no one could have ever predicted what he put together this past year. </i>
HE CAN'T PLAY IN THE FIELD EVERY NIGHT WITH THOSE KNEES. Its why he was trade to an AL team. Its why Oakland eventually let him go. He is a DH which isn't allowed in the NL. He was a disaster waiting to happen in left field for the Nats.
STOP you sound like an idiot.
@lerici No need for name calling, please keep it respectful. You have your opinion and I have mine.
In the 96 games that WIllingham played left field, he hit 21 homeruns and drove in 72 RBI while hitting .251. That's just 96 games in which he did better than a full season of both Nix and Gomes combined. If he did the same thing for the Nats and split time with a player such as Nix, the offensive production from left field would be undeniably better. He wouldn't be the worst bench player as well.
Willingham was worth all of 2.1 war last season. That is all you can credit him with for the trade. He was limited in the field and once again missed significant time to injury. His knee problems were masked some by DHing 40 times last year. Henry has been worth .7 war thus far with roughly 4 or 5 years of control left. Even if brown only makes it as a 4th outfielder there is a good chance he would be able to supply te team with .5 war a season. They have 6 year of control over him. I don't see how this could be looked at as anything but a win for the team. The team even got .6 war from Nix last season and willinghams value would have been pushed further downward with more time in the field. I honestly don't feel the team was much worse for wear without him.
@PeytonDowdy All very good points. In regards to Brown, see the majority of the other comments for my opinion. Truthfully I hope I'm wrong and he is one of the best players the Nats carry.
Really everything here is just hypothetical/speculation on everyone's part. Who really knows what really would have happened. Willingham could have had a season ending injury early on in the season, or maybe he could have become an all star. I'm just arguing, that due to a couple of unlucky events after the trade, in the short run, the trade has hurt more than it has helped.
I have always liked this trade when people were blasting Rizzo. Think about who the manager was at the time. Riggs played veterans and with Willingham here Morse would have had NO SHOT and we would never have had that magical year with him. Willingham has not had a full season in the last 5 years. He is injured, a negative on defense and he wanted a multiyear deal. He is a great guy, perfect for any clubhouse, a gentleman and all that but we benefited by finding Morse, getting a stud closer, and if Brown doesn't move to the majors, he can be a major trade piece in a year or two.
@sjm3008 Personally I never disliked the trade as well but in the short term, any person can see how the lack of a consistent left fielder has hurt the Nats last year and at the beginning of this year. As I said in the article, the biggest problem with the trade was the unfortunate timing and injuries that led to this gap. They were completely unpredictable but I think everyone could agree that keeping Willingham would have helped the Nats significantly.
In regards to Morse, he would have most likely had a shot via LaRoche's injury so in my opinion, that really can't be counted in to the equation. As you know, he didn't spend the majority of his time in left field.
Corey Brown is breaking out this season in Syracuse. He could easily fill the outfield need. H-Rod can still be kind of raw, but still think the Nats will end up being the winners there. Especially once Brown comes up.
@KGDowd Even though he's off to a great start where do you see him filling in? Werth has right field locked up for a while, Harper when he comes up will probably lock up center, and Morse if he continues even decent production will lock up left. The only way he could play in the majors in that situation would be as a bench player. In the long run I think this trade will pay off because of Hrod but I don't think Brown will amount for much.
@Philley Worst case scenario they trade Brown for more talent. I just don't really see it hurting the Nats in any way. Also allows for flexibility in the outfield so the organization doesn't become dependent on those three players, especially when new contracts come around.
@KGDowd It has already hurt the Nats pursuit for a winning season. That's a lot for a club that is coming off a couple of just horrible seasons.
It's just my opinion, I just don't see that much of a return from Brown. If he gets his stats up, maybe he'll become a more viable trade prospect but for now after batting .235 with 134 strikeouts in 124 games last season, he's not drawing very much attention. As for flexibility later, the Nationals have numerous other prospects (Taylor, Perez, Goodwin) who will be ready and will have much more potential than Brown.
You can't really count Willingham's production this year against the trade because the Nats COULD have resigned him this offseason. The deal was one year of his decent offensive production and mediocre defense in exchange for having Fast Henry and Brown for years to come. Given that last year was an obvious rebuilding year, I'd make that trade 10 times out of 10.
@kkolchack Not to mention Willingham only played in the field 96 games last season. He clearly benefited from being able to DH 1/3rd of the time in the AL. I have serious doubts he would have gotten as many at bats last season if he ha to play the field every day. I also think it is somewhat close minded to assume Brown has nowhere to contribute. There is no guarantee that Laroche will be back next season which would mean Morse moving to 1st and exposing either LF or CF.
I'm a little close minded about Brown for a couple of reasons. The first being the amazing outfielder depth that the Nats possess with players like Taylor, Perez, and Goodwin, that all show potential greater than that of Brown's. The second is that his stats last year in AAA were pretty brutal. Batting .235 with 134 strikeouts in 124 games is not going to draw any interest.
As for that one year that Willingham could have provided, it could have been the last nudge to pushing us over .500 for the first time ever. Many people don't see that as a huge accomplishment but it really is for a ball club that has been struggling for the past half decade.
My complete opinion is that I truly found nothing wrong with the trade. What I argue is that the whole timing of the trade and the injuries proceeding it, hurt the Nats in this short run.