D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's shot down talk of trading Josh Willingham for two years now. In '09 it was because the Hammer was under control for two more years and last year because he was an important part of the middle of the Nats' lineup along with Adam Dunn. In a meeting with the D.C. press corps after the 2010 Trade Deadline passed, Mr. Rizzo was asked if he'd had any calls about the soon-to-be-32-year-old seven-year MLB veteran, and the Nationals' General Manager joked that, "[Willingham] was a very popular item to discuss. There were serious inquiries for Josh Willingham and we didn't feel that we got the return back to feel good about moving him." Coming off a knee-injury and surgery that limited the left fielder to 114 games last season, the Hammer's agent said in an October interview that even then the Florence, Alabama-born outfielder was 100% recovered and ready to go...
Recent reports/rumors, however, have Willingham getting traded before the 2011 season starts, with Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore writing even earlier tonight in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Nationals 'aggressively pursuing' trade for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza; but can they make it happen?", that Washington is, "willing to trade outfielder Josh Willingham, but his salary -- he'll likely make roughly $6 million this season in arbitration -- would make him unattractive," to teams like Kansas City and Tampa Bay, from whom the Nats are said to want pitching, whether it's the Royals' Greinke or the Rays' Garza.
Willingham spent six minutes and forty-five seconds talking to Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Jim-Bowden-fill-in USA Today writer Mel Antonen this afternoon on Inside Pitch , but the possibility of his being traded was never discussed. What did they talk about? Stephen Strasburg. The new Nats' right fielder Jayson Werth. The growth of the Nats. Here's what the Hammer had to say...(ed. note - "The theme of today's show was the Top Ten stories of the year, so they talked a lot about Strasburg's arrival.") :
• The buzz about Strasburg? Have you ever seen anything like that before?
Josh Willingham: "No, I really haven't, and I don't know that I will [again] to be honest with you. So, it was phenomenal the media attention that was there the very first night that he pitched and it was phenomenal until he kinda got hurt. So, I mean every day it was just [a ton] of media attention and obviously we weren't used to that in Washington, and the expectations that were put on that kid were obviously heavy and he lived up to them for the most part, so I can't wait to see him get on the mound and pitch again."
• What was Strasburg like personally?
Josh Willingham: "He's a great guy and he's very humble and down-to-earth. That's what people don't realize. People put him on a pedestal but he's just a normal guy that works hard, and he's just been given a phenomenal talent, so that's basically all I can say. I was kind of expecting him to be a cocky kid that was the first pick of the draft, but obviously he wasn't like that, and he was just a normal guy that had a great arm and worked hard like everybody else. He's a blue-collar kid."
• Did things change when Strasburg arrived?
Josh Wilingham: "Well, you know I mean he gave our pitching staff obviously a legitimate no.1 and as an organization that's sorta struggled with their starting pitching, when he went out every fifth day, you expected to win, it was like a [CC] Sabathia or somebody like that going out there, and when you have somebody like him going out there on the mound every five days, there's a little confidence level that you get and you know that you're going to have a great chance to win every time he goes out and pitches. So, I think that's what it did for our ballclub more than anything, is knowing that you've got somebody on the mound that the other team really doesn't want to be in the batter's box against."
• Who's the best young rookie pitcher you have faced?
Josh Willingham: "I don't know, I would have to think about that for a little bit. I think Tommy Hanson from the Braves has a great chance to be a really, really, really good pitcher. He already is, but he's obviously he's young, but he's got that control and he's got three or four pitches that he throws for strikes, and he's got velocity up to 95-95 mph so, I would have to say he's the first guy that came to mind."
• What was your reaction to Jayson Werth's deal?
Josh Willingham: "Obviously, when I found out we got him I was tickled, but you know, obviously too, when I found that money, I have to be honest with you, I said, 'Whoa!' So it is a lot of money, but good for him, he's had a great career and anything you get as a player I believe you've earned, so obviously it is a lot of money, but I was excited for our ballclub and the potential that it has, and what he brings to the table, because he's a great all-around player and that's why he got paid like he did."
• What are the expectations for 2011, would you be happy to finish .500?
Josh Willingham: "I don't know about that. The Nationals are sort of proving themselves that they're committed to winning, now there's a lot more that goes into it other than just being committed to winning. You have to put the right pieces in there. We've got have somebody to fill Adam [Dunn]'s role that he did last year for us, and obviously we need help pitching I believe, but you have to put your trust in the front office and general manager, [Mike Rizzo] does a great job for us, so we need a few more pieces of the puzzle and we'll have to see what we look like going into Spring Training, but I think that the experience is growing with the core group of guys that we have, you know, we've been together for a couple years now, myself and [Ryan] Zimmerman and John Lannan, some of those guys, so I believe the experience is getting there which is what we lacked a couple years ago and obviously it hurts to have someone like [Strasburg] go down, but when he gets back...and I don't really know what my expectations are next year, but you go into Spring Training and you want to win and I think the goal is to be the best ballclub you can be. We're not going to throw a lineup or pitching staff out there like the Yankees or Red Sox are, but that doesn't mean that you can't win at the major league level."