The Nationals signed pinch-hitter Chad Tracy to a contract extension through the 2013 season, securing their most valuable bench player through next year and giving Tracy assurance one season after he kept his career alive by playing in Japan.
“It feels really good,” Tracy said. “These guys gave me an opportunity in spring training. They gave me an opportunity to come here and help this team and kind of show my value.”
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo approached Tracy roughly a week ago, and the sides quickly hammered out a deal. Terms of the one-year agreement are not yet known. The Nationals were motivated to sign Tracy now, before he reaches free agency. Tracy wanted to ensure he would not again need to search for a major league contract.
“We had two parties that wanted to be together,” Rizzo said. “He’s been a great teammate. He’s been great off the bench. We thought it was a good time to lock him up so he didn’t get out to free agency and test the waters. We know we had a guy we liked and a guy that performs for us. We felt it was a good time to lock him up for next year.”
This time last year, Tracy wondered if his career would continue. He had joined the Hiroshima Carp for the 2011 season. He felt alienated in Japan, with few position players who spoke English for him to befriend. His year was cut short by a double sports hernia. On the flight home for his operation, his leg swelled, and he learned he had a blood disorder that caused blood clots.
“There was a lot going on while I was over there,” Tracy said.
The Nationals signed Tracy this winter to a minor league contract and promised him a chance to make the opening day roster. Rizzo drafted Tracy in 2001, when he was the Arizona Diamondbacks’ scouting director. He remembered Tracy’s smooth swing and professionalism. “We’re very close,” Rizzo said.
After a slow start, Tracy started smashing the ball in the Grapefruit League, and injuries opened the door for a spot. In the first two games of the season, at Wrigley Field, Tracy delivered game-tying and game-winning pinch hits. Despite missing two months after re-aggravating his hernia, Tracy has hit .283 with an .870 OPS this year.
“It’s a story about perseverance and about the love of the game,” Rizzo said. “He had an injury-plagued season last year. He went to Japan. Your comfort level is really tested there. Your love of the game is tested. To compound that with being injured, it really made it difficult for him.”
The Nationals recognized a bench player they did not want to lose. Last year, they envisioned Laynce Nix as a part of their 2012 bench. But once he reached free agency, the Phillies offered him a two-year contract the Nationals were not willing to match. The experience colored their decision with Tracy.
“Rather than get caught with our pants on fire,” Manager Davey Johnson said, the Nationals signed Tracy now.
And so Tracy will not search for a job this offseason for the first time in three years. His wife is on schedule to deliver the couple’s third daughter in November. He can already plan on his family being in Washington next summer, a perk that he cherishes after he chased the sport halfway around the world.
“It’s come full circle, you know?” Tracy said. “The last couple years in the offseason, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was signing minor league deals and having to come in and fight to make the club. To have a guaranteed year and to know where you’re going next year with your family, you can kind of start planning it, it’s great. It’s a good way to play.”
“You’re on a first-place team, 30 games over .500, and they’re offering you an extension,” Tracy added. “It’s really not a whole lot better than that.”
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