Notes: Kearns could be on the move
Outfielder may be traded to deepen Nats' starting rotation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said on Monday that there will be four players -- Wily Mo Pena, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Austin Kearns -- competing for three spots in the outfield during Spring Training. He added that all four will get their share of playing time in 2008.
But according to a baseball source with knowledge of the situation, Washington is looking to trade Kearns and infielder Felipe Lopez for starting pitching. The Nationals have interest in Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey and Twins right-hander Kevin Slowey.
Pelfrey, 23, is a pitcher the Nats have coveted since before the July 31 trade deadline. Pelfrey remains a highly regarded prospect, but he has not been impressive in his brief Major League career. Last season with the Mets, he went 3-8 with a 5.57 ERA in 15 games.
Slowey, 23, made his Major League debut in 2007 and went 4-1 with a 4.73 ERA in 13 games -- 11 starts. He was named the International League Most Valuable Pitcher after posting a league-best 1.89 ERA.
It would appear the Twins would be the perfect trade partners with the Nationals. Minnesota is looking for a center fielder and a shortstop. Kearns is considered an above-average center fielder, while Lopez improved his defense dramatically in 2007.
As far as their offense goes, Kearns and Lopez were mediocre at best. Kearns had a bad first half, hitting .250 with 30 RBIs. But he improved by hitting .285 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs after the All-Star break. Kearns' struggles with the bat were often overlooked by Bowden, manager Manny Acta and observers of the team because of his defensive prowess in right field.
If Kearns is traded, that would mean that the outfield is set with Pena in left, Milledge in center and Dukes in right. It would give the Nationals a more athletic outfield than they had last year with Ryan Church, Nook Logan and Kearns.
Lopez, according to the source, is expendable, and the Nationals are looking for a leadoff hitter. Lopez struggled all season long, hitting .245 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs. The only saving grace was his defense at second base and shortstop.
What's been floating around: There was word out at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center that the Cubs were interested in shortstop Cristian Guzman, but a baseball source shot that down immediately, pointing out that the Cubs have too many good infielders on their 40-man roster.
Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp was mentioned again as a possible candidate to be the Nationals' leadoff hitter next year, but several sources said it would be foolish for Washington to pick up Crisp because he makes too much money -- he will make over $10 million in the next two years -- and doesn't get on base enough. Crisp has a lifetime .329 on-base percentage.
The free-agent front: According to several sources, the Nationals have targeted right-hander Jason Jennings. The team is willing to give Jennings only a one-year deal.
Jennings missed most of last season because of a tear in the flexor tendon in his right elbow. He went 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA for the Astros. Jennings said he is 100 percent and has already started his throwing program. Jennings is best remembered for his years with the Rockies. His best season was in 2002, when he went 16-8 with a 4.52 ERA.
"At this point, I'm open to anybody. I want to take advantage of being a free agent. You work hard to get to this point and I want to see where all my options are," Jennings said. "With the new ballpark coming, [Washington] would be one of the more interesting places to go, as opposed to the last two years when they were at RFK."
Washington still has interest in right-hander Livan Hernandez and is willing to give him a two-year deal, according to source. Hernandez could really help the Nationals in terms of eating innings. Washington didn't have a pitcher who pitched 200 innings in 2007.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.