Nats trade for DeJesus, release Bernadina

Nats trade for DeJesus, release Bernadina
August 19, 2013, 3:30 pm
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Updated at 7:55 p.m.

CHICAGO — David DeJesus was out having lunch with his wife on Monday when the Cubs outfielder realized he has missed a call from team president Theo Epstein. Kim DeJesus told her husband, "You probably got traded."

Two hours later, David DeJesus was standing outside the third base dugout at Wrigley Field, exchanging hugs with his now-former teammates and trudging across the field to the first base dugout to join the Nationals, having indeed been traded just before the two clubs opened a four-game series.

"It's different," he said. "I couldn't even find my way to the locker room. I've never been on this side of the field, so I had to go upstairs. I was like: 'Do I go up the stairs? Or is there another way around?' It was kind of surreal, but I got through it OK."

Seeking yet another upgrade to their unproductive bench, the Nationals acquired DeJesus in a waiver-claim trade for a player to be named later, then released fellow outfielder Roger Bernadina to clear space on their 25-man roster.

The Nationals believe DeJesus can provide a boost down the stretch, counting on his track record for offensive production. The 33-year-old boasts a .279 batting average and .354 on-base percentage in 11 seasons with the Royals, Athletics and Cubs. He was hitting .250 with six homers, 27 RBI and a .330 on-base percentage in 84 games this season, playing mostly center field.

"I thought that he gives us a few things that I thought that we needed going forward," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He improves our left-handed side of the bench immediately. He's also a guy that is capable of being an everyday player. He can step in there for extended periods of time if there are injuries, that type of thing. He helps us in a variety of ways. He's really wearing out right-handed pitching right now. He's a high on-base percentage guy in his career. A consummate professional hitter."

Whether the Nationals will find much playing time for DeJesus remains to be seen. Manager Davey Johnson stressed the importance of keeping Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Denard Span in his lineup the majority of the time, with perhaps the right-handed-hitting Scott Hairston replacing either Harper or Span on occasion against a left-handed opponent.

"I'm sure that he wants to play," Johnson said. "But Harper needs to play, most definitely. Werth is having an outstanding season. Span is doing a great job defensively, his bat is picking up. I'm more concerned, with where we're at in the standings, getting the young guys more at-bats than some of the veteran-type players."

The Nationals had their eye on DeJesus earlier this summer but couldn't find common ground on a trade proposal prior to the July 31 deadline. Once the Cubs placed him on waivers this week, though, the Nationals put in a claim and worked out a deal.

DeJesus is in the final year of a two-year, $10 million contract. The Nationals are responsible for roughly $1 million owed him the rest of this season. They hold a $6.5 million club option for 2014 or can buy that out for $1.5 million, which means the acquisition will cost them at least $2.5 million.

Rizzo didn't speculate whether the Nationals would exercise that option, saying only the club will evaluate where things stand at season's end. But DeJesus appears to be a six-week rental for a team that entered play Monday trailing the Braves by 15 1/2 games in the NL East and the Reds by 9 1/2 games in the NL Wild Card race.

"We're going to take this thing one game at a time," Rizzo said. "But I certainly haven't given up on this season, and I think that with the talent level that we have on this ballclub that we still have a run left in us."

The addition of the left-handed DeJesus made Bernadina expendable, so the Nationals released the longest-tenured player in the organization. Signed out of Curacao in November 2001 by then-Expos general manager Jim Beattie, Bernadina was a key member of last season's NL East championship squad, setting career highs with a .291 batting average and .372 on-base percentage.

But the 29-year-old outfielder struggled mightily this season, his batting average plummeting to .178, his on-base percentage to .247. He saw his playing time dramatically diminish; he was last in the Nationals' starting lineup on June 30 and he received only 22 plate appearances over the club's last 41 games.

"I'm not sure what it was," Rizzo said. "Mechanically, he never got himself righted. He is a guy with an abundance of tools and skills and really hit within himself last year and utilized his speed and line drives and that type of thing. He just could never get on track this year, and it was something that we were waiting for throughout the season and it just didn't happen."

DeJesus was still adjusting to his new surroundings on Monday. He was wearing a Nationals cap and jersey, but his undershirt remained Cubs blue, as did his cleats. He hopes to integrate himself quickly.

"I can't be anyone other than myself," he said. "I'm going to go out there and play my game. I'm excited to see these guys who've succeeded so much in their careers, the Strasburgs, the Zimmermanns, the Gios, the LaRoches. All these guys are quality players. I'm excited to see their work ethic, and maybe I can pick up some things from them, maybe they can pick up some things from me and then who knows what can happen? There's still plenty of games left."