Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry left baseball's winter meetings on Monday having talked with "five or six" teams, including the Washington Nationals, about possible trades for outfielder Sammy Sosa. But even though the Cubs are willing to trade Sosa and pay much of his contract, the Nationals aren't in position to expand their payroll to pursue a marquee player.
"We're kind of locked in to where we're at," Nationals President Tony Tavares said by telephone on Monday. "I could make an approach [to MLB, which owns the team], but they've already expanded our payroll."
The Nationals have about $6 million of their $50 million payroll budget remaining, and interim general manager Jim Bowden spent the meetings trying to figure out creative ways to land another starting pitcher or even make a run at Sosa. Two National League sources said Bowden wants the Cubs to pay nearly all of Sosa's contract. In return, the Nationals would give up outfielder Terrmel Sledge and another player, perhaps first baseman Nick Johnson. "They're not going to give [Sosa] away for free," one source said.
Bowden, meantime, made several moves Monday in an attempt to strengthen the bench. He signed veteran infielder Wil Cordero to a one-year, $600,000 contract. He also signed veteran outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds to a minor league contract that would be worth $350,000 should Hammonds make the team. Once a promising talent, Hammonds, a .272 hitter in 12 seasons, has long been hampered by injuries.
The Nationals also selected speedy outfielder Tyrell Godwin from Toronto and third baseman Tony Blanco from Cincinnati in Monday's Rule 5 draft. In order for Washington to keep the players, they must be on the major league roster for the full season, or the other club has a chance to take them back. It costs $50,000 to take players in the Rule 5 draft; a team receives only $25,000 if the player is returned to his previous club. Washington defrayed those costs by trading minor league right-hander Victor Prieto to Boston for $25,000 and picking up $20,000 from San Diego as payment for a previous trade.
To make room on the 40-man roster for the signings and Rule 5 draftees, the Nationals designated outfielder Ron Calloway for assignment.