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Posted at 10:35 AM ET, 12/19/2011

Catching up on Nationals’ minor league deals

The Nationals made a series of minor league signings recently in order to augment their depth at Class AAA, adding utility infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Jason Michaels and relievers Jeff Fulchino and Waldis Joaquin.

Blanco, 27, appeared in 36 games for the Rangers last season, hitting .224/.263/.342 in 82 plate appearances. He’s played in parts of six major league seasons, also playing for the Royals and Cubs. Blanco has a career OPS+ of 66, but he’s a capable, versatile fielder.

Michaels, 35, has played 11 major league seasons, receiving semi-regular playing time with the Astros for the past three seasons. He had a 110 OPS+ in 2010 but fell off a cliff last year, hitting .199/.256/.295 in 169 plate appearances last year. He’ll be invited to major league camp, but one assumes he is an extreme long shot to make the team.

Fulchino, 32, signed a split contract, which means he will earn one salary if he makes the major league club and another if he plays in the minors. He’s pitched 178 1/3 innings over five seasons. Last year, Fulchino had a 5.71 ERA while striking out 33 and walking 22 in 34 2/3 innings, finishing the year with a brief stint in San Diego after pitching mostly for the Astros. He could compete with Yunesky Maya and Craig Stammen to fill the long relief role played by Collin Balester for much of last season. He’s 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, which, when spring training comes, will make him one of the largest structures in all of Viera.

Joaquin, who will turn 25 on Christmas, has thrown 21 2/3 major league innings over the past three seasons for the Giants, who released him this winter. Joaquin, a right-hander, averages about 95 miles per hour with his fastball. Over seven minor league seasons, Joaquin had a 1.94 strikeout-to-walk rate and a 3.50 ERA.

Also, on Saturday the Brewers claimed the rights to posted Japanese outfielder Nori Aoki with a winning bid of $2.5 million. The Nationals had some preliminary interest, but in the end decided he was not an everyday answer in center field. Some scouts believe Aoki’s weak arm and waning speed will relegate him to a fourth outfielder role.

MLB.com first reported the Blanco signing. Baseball America first reported the Michaels signing. The Houston Chronicle first reported the Fulchino signing. MLB Trade Rumors first reported the Joaquin signing.

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