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Nationals give Harris two-year deal

Nationals give Harris two-year deal

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals had until Friday at midnight ET to tender contracts to six arbitration-eligible players, but the team made its decisions on the players a few hours before the deadline.

The team rewarded outfielder Willie Harris with a two-year deal worth $3 million, decided to non-tender right-hander Tim Redding and offered salary arbitration to pitchers Shawn Hill and Scott Olsen, outfielder Josh Willingham and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

Harris, who is a favorite of manager Manny Acta, was the most versatile player on the team this past season. Harris played all three outfield positions and second and third base. He ended up playing every day in the outfield during the second half of 2008 because of injuries to Austin Kearns and Elijah Dukes. Harris finished the year hitting .251 with a career-high 13 home runs and 43 RBIs.

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"It feels like everything just paid off -- all the patience that I had," Harris said. "I kept my faith and I let things happen. I feel real good. When I was with the Orioles, they insisted that I start playing different positions. That's a big plus for me.

"When the Nationals offered me the two-year contract, that told me they had some type of plan for me -- whether it's super-utility guy or being a good guy in the clubhouse. Once they showed me that interest, I didn't want to go anywhere else. I like playing in Washington. I love the guys there."

As far as Redding goes, the Nationals were trying to trade him to the Rockies during the Winter Meetings, but both parties were unable to agree to a deal. The Nationals also didn't want to pay Redding a lot of money, because he slumped badly after the All-Star break, going 3-8 with a 6.92 ERA.

"It kind of came as a surprise, but I also know they are trying to cut cost and everything else because they are trying to bring in [Mark Teixeira]," Redding said.

The Rockies continue to have interest in Redding, but they want to give him a non-guaranteed contract.

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"I'm a free agent, and I'll be checking the whole market," Redding said. "[General manager] Jim [Bowden] made it clear to me that there is still interest back in D.C., but not for the price arbitration would allow me to get. I'm going through the process."

Hill, Olsen, Willingham and Zimmerman are in their first year of arbitration. Olsen and Willingham were acquired in a trade that sent second baseman Emilio Bonifacio to the Marlins last month, while Zimmerman is coming off a season in which he hit .283 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs.

Offering Hill arbitration shows how much confidence the Nationals have in the right-hander. He has had elbow problems the past four years in Washington that have limited him to a combined 34 games. But when Hill is healthy, the team often talks about the great control he has on the mound.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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