08/17/08 2:43 PM ET
Nationals trade pitcher Ayala to Mets
Relief pitcher requested trade; club gets player to be named
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
The Nationals put Ayala on waivers last week and the Mets claimed him. Both clubs then spent nearly 48 hours -- the maximum negotiating window -- trying to work out a deal. Washington agreed to make this trade because Ayala will be a Type C free agent after the season, so it would not get any compensation if he signed with another team.
Ayala requested the trade weeks ago because he wanted a change of scenery. He said that he lost focus because of personal problems off the field, which included having a divorce and getting shot in his left arm this past offseason. He said that those were the reasons why he was testy toward the local media during the first half of the season.
But a source told a different story. Ayala was apparently unhappy that he wasn't given the closer's job after Chad Cordero went down with a shoulder injury early in the season and Jon Rauch was traded to the Diamondbacks last month. Joel Hanrahan is now the closer for the Nationals, even though Ayala has closing experience in the Mexican League.
"I'm surprised -- I thought it was too late to be traded," Ayala said. "I had my best times here. I say thank you for supporting me for six years. I have great moments to remember here."
Ayala struggled this season, however, compiling a 1-8 record with a 5.77 ERA in 62 appearances. After he gave up the game-winning home run against the Brewers last Sunday, the Nationals no longer considered Ayala a late-inning reliever. His last appearance was in a mop-up role against the Rockies on Saturday.
Pitching coach Randy St. Claire said last week that Ayala nearly stopped relying on his best pitch -- his sinker -- and threw more breaking balls than usual.
St. Claire also felt that Ayala was trying too hard because of his impending free agency.
"I think he is putting some pressure on himself with his free-agent year," St. Claire said last week. "You're a professional athlete, and you have a contract coming up. You're a six-year free agent, and you are trying to impress people. You're thinking, 'I want to have a good year here.' So he's putting pressure to have a good year instead of focusing on getting the job done."
Once Hernandez clears Minor League waivers, he is expected to join the Nationals as a backup infielder on Wednesday against the Phillies. He's having a subpar season for Triple-A New Orleans, hitting .207 with five home runs and 36 RBIs.
Hernandez was the Opening Day second baseman for the Mets in 2006 and has played in 35 big league games, hitting .138 with one homer and three RBIs.
Hernandez came to the Nationals on the recommendation of manager Manny Acta. The two worked together in New York in 2005 and '06.
"He is a quality kid," Acta said. "He can play short and second base. He is a good defensive player. He gives us a lot of depth now, especially at shortstop. He is not having a good year right now."
With Ayala gone, Cordero, right-hander Shawn Hill and first baseman Nick Johnson are the only players on the Nationals' 40-man roster who played for the Expos.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.