The Nationals reunited with veteran right-handed reliever Luis Ayala, a former Monteal Expo and original 2005 National, by signing him Friday to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league camp, according to a person familiar with the situation. Ayala adds more bullpen depth to the Nationals, who already enter spring training with a few spots up for competition among several relievers. Ayala rejoins the Nationals but with the “impression that he’ll make the club,” the person said.
The incentives of Ayala’s deal are still being worked out, but he will have a base salary of at least $1 million, the person said.
Ayala, 36, a native of Mexico, enjoyed a career revival of late. He signed with the Baltimore Orioles last spring and was traded to Atlanta in April after allowing two runs in only two appearances. With the Braves, Ayala posted a strong 2.90 ERA over 31 innings, striking out 20 batters and walking 13. Opposing batters hit .286 off Ayala in Atlanta but he limited them to 10 runs in 37 games. Right-handed batters hit .266 off Ayala; left-handers hit .325. Ayala throws five pitches, with his fastball averaging 89.7 miles per hour last season.
Ayala’s addition reunites three original Nationals: Jamey Carroll and Ryan Zimmerman. Ayala was a big part of the 2005 team’s bullpen. He posted a 2.66 ERA and a 1.254 WHIP over 71 innings. Ayala spent five years with the Expos/Nationals, compiling a 3.33 ERA over 332 1/3 innings in 320 games. The Expos drafted Ayala from the Diamondbacks in the Rule 5 draft in 2002 and broke into the big leagues with them in 2003.
The Nationals traded Ayala to the Mets for Anderson Hernandez in August 2008. After that, Ayala pitched for the Twins, Marlins, Yankees, Orioles and Braves. The nine-year veteran has a career 3.34 ERA over 534 major league games. He has a 2.58 ERA in 164 innings over the past three seasons.
While the back three in the bullpen appear set — Rafael Soriano as closer, and Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen as set-up men — the rest of the bullpen is less so. Leading candidates for other spots include Jerry Blevins and Xavier Cedeno, both left-handers, and Craig Stammen. Other options for the bullpen also include Ross Ohlendorf, Ryan Mattheus and, perhaps a long-shot, Sammy Solis. Oft-injured Christian Garcia, and other non-roster invitees, such as Ayala and Manny Delcarmen, are added depth.
There are three other 2005 Nationals still in business: Marlon Byrd, Endy Chavez and Jon Rauch. (Zimmerman debuted as a September call-up after getting drafted that summer.) Now, three players from the Nationals’ original team will be back in the same organization.