Willingham not bothered by trade rumors
Outfielder believes he will remain with Nationals in 2010
WASHINGTON -- After the 2009 season came to an end, Josh Willingham often heard his name in trade rumors. Teams such as the Mets, Braves and Rangers were reportedly interested in the Nationals left fielder.
But the only way Willingham is leaving Washington is if the Nationals are overwhelmed by the players they get in return.
So how does Willingham feel about the possibility of being traded for the second time in his six-year career? He knows that baseball is a business. Willingham believes teams realize he is a productive player. In three out of the last four years, Willingham has hit 21 home runs or more in a season.
"I guess I didn't feel one way or the other about it," Willingham said before agreeing to a one-year, $4.6 million contract with Washington on Tuesday. "I understand it's part of the business. When you talk about a trade, you realize both parties are trying to upgrade their team. If they are going to upgrade their teams, then that will happen."
Asked if he will be with the Nationals by Opening Day, Willingham said, "I would say, 'Yes.' Again, that's something I have no knowledge of. I have not been told anything. I don't have any idea what anybody is talking about. I really don't have an educated answer to give you, but I would say as of right now, I would say, 'Yes.'"
The right-handed-hitting Willingham, 30, is coming off a season in which he hit .260 with 24 home runs and 61 RBIs in 133 games for Washington. The season had its share of ups and downs on the field.
Willingham started the season on the bench and didn't start playing regularly until late May. By early August, Willingham was one of the Nationals' hottest hitters. On Aug. 3, in fact, Willingham was named National League Player of the Week for going 10-for-23 (.435) with three home runs and 11 RBIs. He collected four multihit games while posting a .913 slugging percentage and a .519 on-base percentage.
It helped that Willingham had the game of his career on July 27, hitting two grand slams at Miller Park to lead the Nationals to a 14-6 win over the Brewers. Willingham became the 13th player in Major League history to accomplish the feat and the first to do so since Boston's Bill Mueller in 2003.
"There is a lesson to be learned for a lot of people," manager Jim Riggleman said back in August. "A lot of people would have gone into the tank, pouted and not handled [being on the bench] very well -- not be prepared when an opportunity did arise. That didn't happen [with Josh]. He kept pushing, kept working with [hitting coach] Rick Eckstein and was ready when the opportunity did present itself."
However, Willingham lost the stroke by the end of the season, going 14-for-90 (.133) with only four RBIs in his last 26 games.
"The season went through a lot of extremes, from not playing to playing well," Willingham said. "I had bad month in September. It was kind of frustrating to me at the end of the season. It's not the way I wanted to end the season. Other than that, when you step back and look at the numbers, they are pretty good for the number of at-bats that I had."
Willingham's goal for the upcoming season is to see the Nationals play better baseball. They are coming off a season in which they won only 59 games.
"You want to keep progressing as a baseball player and as a team. That's the main goal. ... I want to see constant improvement," Willingham said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.