Josh Willingham has been traded to the Oakland Athletics for former Oklahoma State bopper Corey Brown and pitcher Henry Rodriguez, who features a 98 mph fastball and a devastating curve. It’s tough to see Willingham go and Nationals’ fans are bound to be disappointed in the return: neither Brown nor Rodriguez are considered among the top prospects in the A’s system, and both are unpolished. But the Nats front office was apparently impressed with Brown’s power (he was dominant this fall, in Arizona) and H-Rod’s eye-popping speed and both will get a good look in Spring Training. It’s not out of the question that, if Rodriguez impresses Riggleman & Co., he could be the Nats’ closer in 2011. He has the stuff to do it and was used out of the bullpen by the A’s in 2010. Corey Brown, on the other hand, might well be an experiment: he hit for power in the A’s farm system (with 15 home runs at AA and AAA), but he struck out 129 times in 530-some at bats. Even so, Brown is young enough and good enough (and he’s fast) to start getting more than a look-see in a new Nats outfield.
In Willingham, the A’s get a steady presence both in left field and at the plate where (prior to his August 15 injury) he hit .268 with 16 home runs. The trade for Willingham was set up by A’s General Manager Billy Beane by the signing of former Rangers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and the re-signing of yet-to-reach-his-potential Rich Harden. Then too, in light of a slow off season for the Belinskis, the continued cratering of the Mariners and the failure of Texas to land Cliff Lee, the A’s front office is calculating that the A’s can outdistance the Rangers for A.L. West honors. They might be right. With the addition of Willingham, the White Elephants have finished building an outfield that (in addition to Willingham) will now feature Coco Crisp and David DeJesus, and a revamped middle-of-the-line-up that includes newly signed Hideki Matsui. The A’s are also in the race for Adrian Beltre, whose prospective signing would give the A’s a middle of the order that would be the class of the other coast.
And the Nats? Considering Willingham’s mid-August injury and his reputation as a popular but not-quite-great ballplayer, Rizzo got what he could — and it wasn’t bad. Brown has power potential and is close to getting more than just a cup of coffee in the bigs, while Rodriguez is a comer — and is coming fast. We all loved “The Hammer,” but on one would mistake Willingham for Henry Aaron. Nor was Willingham ever picked as the player who could become a constant presence, or lead the team to the promised land. He was good. He was beloved. He was temporary. The Nats need to get younger, faster and better, which is what they just did.