Nationals show interest in Jeff Baker

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Still looking to add a power bat to their bench following their agreement with speedy fourth outfielder Nate McLouth, the Nationals have been in contact with free agent right-handed slugger Jeff Baker, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Baker’s strengths are his versatility and ability to pulverize left-handed pitching. Baker, 32, plays all four corner positions and, in a pinch, could also play second base. For the Texas Rangers last year, Baker hit .279/.360/.545 with 11 homers in 175 plate appearances. In his nine-year career, Baker has slugged .522 and hit .298 against left-handed pitchers.

The Nationals entered the winter with a mandate to beef up their bench. Baker would provide an upgrade, at least based on track record, over Tyler Moore. With Scott Hairston, McLouth and Baker, the Nationals would have three veterans accustomed to coming off the bench, rather than young players forced to adjust to inconsistent roles.

Baker would likely be more affordable than McLouth, who agreed to a two-year, $10.75 million contract with a club option for a third year. Baker played last season for $1.75 million and, because he appeared in just 74 games, he is not in line for a significant raise. He will likely end up playing for around $4 million or less in 2014.

Baker has local ties. He went to Garfield Gar-Field High and was named the All-Met baseball Player of the Year in 1999.

The Nationals remain aggressive in trying to add a left-handed reliever to their bullpen, their other priority at the winter meetings. Nationals officials spent the morning gather potential trade targets and partners in order to acquire a lefty reliever. The Nationals have been in discussions with many relievers, including Boone Logan, Eric O’Flaherty, Scott Downs, Oliver Perez and J.P. Howell. But they are also looking into trades to fill the spot.

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