PHILADELPHIA — Mike Rizzo didn't just know he needed a veteran, right-handed outfielder for his bench, he knew Scott Hairston was the guy he wanted more than anyone else.
Rizzo acknowledged today he had some interest in signing Hairston as a free agent over the winter, then set his sights on the 33-year-old as a trade target several weeks ago. Rizzo had been in discussions with the Cubs and made a concerted effort to get the deal done before this week's series against the Phillies.
"Scott was the main guy we were looking for," Rizzo said. "He kind of fit the parameters that we were looking for as far as the history of doing exactly what we brought him in here to do. Being knowledgeable of the league had a lot to do with it. Knowing some of the players in the clubhouse and knowing the makeup, character and work ethic of the player put him at the top of our list."
The Nationals sent 21-year-old right-hander Ivan Pineyro to the Cubs in exchange for Hairston. The deal, which was finalized late last night, also included a swap of players-to-be-named later, though the Nats could receive cash instead, helping cover some of the remaining $3.5 million owed to Hairston through 2014.
Hairston was due to arrive at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon, but his flight from Chicago was delayed several hours. He did make it in time to join his new teammates in the dugout before first pitch at 7:08 p.m.
The Nationals hope the veteran outfielder will provide some much-needed punch to a group of reserves that collectively has struggled all season. Hairston owns a career .813 OPS against left-handed pitching, and though that number has plummeted to .684 this year, Rizzo believes his track record speaks for itself.
"It's a small sample this year," the GM said. "Over his career, he's been a very successful major-league hitter. Hits good left-handed pitching extremely well. And was an everyday player not so long ago. We like where he's at, what he brings to the dynamic of the bench. And I think he gives Davey [Johnson] another tool to work with and to try and out-manage the guy across the way."
Hairston has particularly good numbers against the Phillies, most notably Cole Hamels (who starts tomorrow's game): 12-for-30, five doubles, five homers. With that in mind, Rizzo made a point to get the deal done before the start of this series.
Because of those numbers, Johnson may find a way to get Hairston into the lineup tomorrow. Overall, though, he plans to use the veteran almost exclusively off the bench.
"He's more the kind of player we need," Johnson said. "We have a pretty much set lineup. We need a veteran presence on the bench, not some youngster. He knows the pitchers and he knows what he needs to do to hit. So it's a great move."
Hairston takes the spot previously occupied by Tyler Moore, who was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse before tonight's game. Moore had received only limited playing time since his recall two weeks ago, going eight days between plate appearances. The Nationals prefer he play every day while in the minors.
"He knows — and I told him when we sent him down last year and sent him down this year — is that he needs the playing time," Johnson said. "He's still a young hitter. He's still learning his approach to certain guys, and it's almost hardly impossible for a young player. ... He just needs to play. In my mind, he's an everyday player. And [coming off the bench in the big leagues] can set him back more than it can help him."
Hairston's acquisition fills the Nationals' biggest need at this point, and Rizzo suggested he's not motivated to make any other trades of significance before the July 31 non-waiver deadline (including for another starting pitcher), though he admitted things "could always change."
"You never stop trying to improve your club," he said. "But with that said, we feel like we like the club that we have, and we're certainly playing better and we'll see where it takes us from here. I don't see any type of big splashy moves that are remaining."