Tuesday night, Marlins utility man Jeff Baker made his first appearance at Nationals Park this season. If things had unfolded differently this winter, Baker could have been playing for the Nationals.
The Nationals showed interest in Baker and kept in touch with his agent, Scott Boras, who they’ve done much business with, all winter long. Baker, a Woodbridge native who attended Gar-Field High, confirmed the Nationals’ desire to sign him as a free agent before Wednesday night’s game.
“We maintained contact with them through the whole process,” Baker said. “We had four teams that we thought were good fits. They were one of them. We ended up going with Miami.”
Baker appealed to the Nationals because he would have added a powerful right-handed bat to their bench, and he can play second base as well as all four corner positions. In 2013, Baker slugged .667 against left-handed pitching in 123 plate appearances. After the Nationals signed Kevin Frandsen, General Manager Mike Rizzo pointed to the Nationals’ missing out on Baker as one reason why.
The Nationals signed Frandsen to a one-year, $900,000 contract. Baker agreed with Miami on a two-year, $3.7 million deal, so signing Baker would not have required breaking the bank. Before the Nationals’ home opener, though, Principal Owner Mark Lerner said the Nationals were “beyond topped out” with a payroll of $134.7 million.
Baker did not delve into the negotiations between him and the Nationals. “It’s water under the bridge at this point,” he said. But he explained why he would have liked to play in Washington.
“There’s a lot of plusses to playing in D.C. for me,” Baker said. “One, it’s home. Two, it’s a team that’s ready to win. I liked Matt Williams, how he went about his business when he was in Arizona. That would have been a definite plus, playing over there for him. There’s a lot of good things about D.C. that made it tough.”
Baker, the 1999 All-Met Player of the Year, still lives in the area and looks forward to trips to Nationals Park. He stays at home and sees family and friends. He receives plenty of ticket requests.
“When you’re playing the Marlins on a Tuesday, we tell them to go to the box office,” Baker said. “It was definitely a little sparse out there.”
Those friends and family could have been rooting for him on the home team. “All I can say is, it was on the radar and it was a good fit,” Baker said. “We just liked the fit here a little better.”