Jeff Baker inks deal with Marlins, Nationals still interested in Oliver Perez

Jeff Baker last season in Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Jeff Baker last season in Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

In an effort to further upgrade their bench, the Nationals expressed interest throughout the winter in free agent right-handed power-hitter and infielder Jeff Baker, a Washington area native. Baker, 32, went to Gar-Field High, is versatile and crushes left-handed pitching for power. But the Miami Marlins offered Baker a lucrative deal, reportedly worth $3.7 million for two years and with a potential $1 million in bonuses.

Another benefit for Baker: He potentially could receive more playing time in Miami than in Washington. According to a person familiar with the situation, Baker’s camp was interested in a two-year deal for the veteran and the Marlins were willing to meet that demand, not the Nationals. According to CBSSports.com last week, the Orioles had also expressed interest in Baker.

Baker plays all four corner positions and could also play second base in a pinch. 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. He was named the All-Met baseball Player of the Year in 1999.

Based on his track record, Baker could have provided an improvement on the bench over right-hander Tyler Moore. With Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth and Baker, the Nationals would have three veterans who are accustomed to coming off then bench, instead of young players still struggling with the roles. Barring any further additions, the Nationals will soon enter camp looking at a bench that could consist of Hairston and McLouth, along with candidates such as Moore, Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano, Chris Snyder, Jamey Carroll, Danny Espinosa, Mike Fontenot, Brock Peterson and Will Rhymes.

But even though the Nationals couldn’t lure Baker, they remain highly interested in another Scott Boras client, left-handed reliever Oliver Perez, according to the person familiar with the situation. The Nationals cast a wide net for free agent left-handed relievers this winter, with Perez among the group.

The Nationals upgraded their bullpen this winter by trading for Jerry Blevins, and consider Blevins, along with Xavier Cedeno, as the leading contenders to make up the left-handed side of the relief corps. Ross Detwiler and prospects Sammy Solis and Matt Purke could also provide depth behind them. But the Nationals have shown in that past that they are willing to bulk up even seemingly secure positions and General Manager Mike Rizzo said recently he is interested in finding value this time of the year with players whose price has dropped.

Perez, 32, jump-started his career as reliever in Class AA Harrisburg in 2011 under pitching coordinator Spin Williams, who worked with Perez in Pittsburgh. With the Seattle Mariners last season, Perez struck out 73 batters in 53 innings with a 3.74 ERA. Left-handed batters hit .238/.358/.288 against him. In two years as a reliever with the Mariners, Perez has a 3.16 ERA in 82 2/3 innings.

>>> The Nationals have extended an invitation to catcher Jeff Howell to attend big league spring training. Howell, 30, is the 19th player to receive a non-roster invitation. Howell, who is from Merritt Island, which is near the Nationals’ Viera facility, spent time at Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse last season. He posted a combined .259/.283/.453 slash line with six homers in 43 games.

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