To Garcia’s surprise, after a workout that July, the Nationals offered him a two-year deal, the second contract year giving the right-hander time to build strength. Garcia, 27, rewarded the Nationals, posting gaudy statistics in the minor leagues last season, then earning a September call-up and even making the postseason roster. Despite an unrelated forearm injury this spring, he is still viewed as an important part of the team’s starting depth.
“I wanted a team that was willing to take the risk,” Garcia said. “But not only the risk but the time, because it wasn’t an easy process to go from everything I’ve been through to, you can’t just throw me out there. . . . They give you another chance to live your dream.”
The Nationals have made an art of scooping up players whose stock has dropped, mostly because of injury. They rehab them, perform surgeries if needed and fix their mechanics. Their conservative approach with injured players, evident in their handling of starting pitchers Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, has given them confidence in taking on other potentially risky players and attracted other players in the same situation.
“We look for value in players, and you have to look in different areas to find good players,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “We don’t go after every hurt player or injured player or rehabbing player, but we do a good job of identifying players that we think can overcome their injuries.”
Taking ‘calculated risks’
Part of the Nationals’ pitch to last year’s first-round pick, Lucas Giolito, to decline a scholarship offer to UCLA and sign with them was reassurance that they would handle his injured elbow with care. The Nationals also selected sweet-hitting infielder Anthony Rendon and left-handed starter Matt Purke, high-ceiling college players whose draft stocks were hurt by shoulder injuries. They took a chance last May on unsigned veteran left-hander Michael Gonzalez, who was coming off knee surgery, and he proved valuable.
Reliever Ryan Mattheus said he was “blown away” when the Nationals traded for him in 2009 when he was only 15 days removed from Tommy John surgery. This winter, while other teams were scared away from signing free agent Dan Haren, the Nationals felt comfortable with the veteran starter’s hip and back, and the treatment they could offer.