Nats get future at second for Rauch
Speedy Bonifacio expected to start and be leadoff man in 2009
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Nationals traded reliever Jon Rauch to the Diamondbacks for second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, who was then optioned to Triple-A Columbus, on Tuesday.
The switch-hitting Bonifacio entered the 2008 season rated as Arizona's No. 6 prospect by Baseball America. The same publication also cited Bonifacio as its 2008 Winter Player of the Year -- an award encompassing the three Caribbean Winter Leagues (Dominican, Venezuelan and Mexican) -- after he hit .300 and posted a .359 on-base percentage with the Licey Tigers of the Dominican Winter League.
Widely recognized as one of the fastest runners in professional baseball, Bonifacio led the Southern League in stolen bases (41) and hits (157), while ranking second in runs scored (84). For his career, Bonifacio owns a stolen-base percentage of 78.1 percent (280 of 357).
A lot of people compare Bonifacio to second baseman Luis Castillo when the latter was in his prime with the Marlins. The Nationals are expecting Bonifacio to be called up before the season is over, and general manager Jim Bowden went so far as to say that Bonifacio is slated to be the everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter for the Nationals in 2009.
This news all but assures that infielder Felipe Lopez will not be back with the club and Ronnie Belliard most likely will be a backup. The Nationals are trying to trade Lopez before the Trade Deadline and there aren't any takers so far.
"He has tremendous range defensively," Bowden said of Bonifacio. "He makes your pitching staff better immediately. He has the best range of any second baseman since I've been here. He is very, very special.
"He has stolen 40 or more basis in each of the last four years. He is a .284 lifetime Minor League hitter. We think he is a top-of-the-order leadoff hitter and steal 40 bags every year and play unbelievable defense with a gun for an arm."
This season, Bonifacio was hitting .302 with 18 doubles, five triples and 17 stolen bases in 85 games with Triple-A Tucson before being recalled by the Diamondbacks in early July. He was a Pacific Coast League All-Star selection, marking his fourth consecutive All-Star season.
Manager Manny Acta watched Bonifacio play for Licey last winter and came away impressed.
"He has great character, which we like about him. He not only has a chance to be a good player, but he is a good person," Acta said.
Rauch, 29, became the Nationals' closer this year because Chad Cordero is out for the season with shoulder problems. Rauch was 4-2 with 17 saves and a 2.98 ERA in 48 appearances with Washington at the time of the trade.
It's not the first time Bowden has traded a reliever for a young position player. As the Reds GM, for example, Bowden traded closer Jeff Brantley to the Cardinals for outfielder Dmitri Young after the 1997 season.
"It was tough to trade Jon Rauch. You have to trade a reliever when you have a chance to get an everyday position player who is 23 years old and in our long-term plans. You have to do it," Bowden said. "During the short term, this helps the Diamondbacks with a chance to win the World Series. In the long term, it's a good trade for us."
With Rauch no longer on the team, the Nationals will turn to Joel Hanrahan as the closer for the rest of the season. Hanrahan is second among Major League relievers in strikeouts with 65. In the last four weeks, Hanrahan has a 1.80 ERA in his last 13 outings.
Hanrahan plans to get advice from Cordero on being a closer. The two will meet up in Los Angles later this week.
"I'm excited. Obviously, I wish Chad was here as the closer. He is a good friend of mine," Hanrahan said. "[Being a closer] was one of my goals. I didn't think it would happen this year. It's something I look forward to. Hopefully, I can do a good job at it."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.