The Washington Nationals yesterday signed pinch hitter Marlon Anderson, formerly of the New York Mets, to a two-year contract, continuing an overhaul of their group of reserves even as General Manager Jim Bowden prepares for another interview with the Boston Red Sox.
Anderson, 31, hit .264 with seven homers in 123 games last season, but impressed with his versatility, one of the qualities that made him attractive to Washington, which could go into 2006 with an almost entirely new bench. Anderson, who joins fellow free agent Damian Jackson as a new National signed specifically to add depth, played first and second base as well as left and right field for the Mets.
"We wanted to improve our bench," Bowden said yesterday. "Our pinch-hitting from the left side wasn't good enough last year, and we didn't get enough key hits. Marlon can do that for us. I think with [first baseman] Nick Johnson's history of injuries, with [second baseman] Jose Vidro's history of injuries, this is an important depth move for our bench."
Anderson will earn $925,000 in each of the two years of his contract. The Mets were interested in retaining him, but only the Nationals offered a two-year deal.
"At some point, you try to get the best deal for yourself," Anderson said. "Washington stepped up ahead of the bunch."
Anderson hit .321 in 56 pinch-hit at-bats last season, and his 35 pinch hits in 2004-05 are the most in baseball over that period. In a career that spans parts of eight seasons with Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and the Mets, he is 41 for 124 (.331) with five homers and 22 RBI as a pinch hitter. He was a regular with the Phillies in 2001-02 and again with the Devil Rays in 2003, but served as a role player with the pennant-winning Cardinals in 2004 and again with the Mets last year.
"I think it's a mental thing," Anderson said. "It's accepting and knowing who you are as a player. Every situation is different. When I was an every-day player, that was my role, and that's what I did. But I had to accept pinch-hitting and playing different positions. A lot of people are mad when that happens. They want to play every day. I want to play every day, but at the same time, to have a chance to take advantage of the opportunity to play this great game, that's all I'm asking."
Nationals pinch hitters hit only .199 last year and had a combined on base-plus-slugging percentage of .559. Ryan Church, potentially their most dangerous left-handed hitting reserve, had just three pinch hits in 24 at-bats.
The signing of Anderson further emphasizes that veteran pinch hitter Carlos Baerga, a switch hitter, won't be back with the club. A source said that Bowden is also shopping utility man Jamey Carroll, who hit .251 in a career-high 113 games, largely filling in for an injured Vidro at second. It's unclear whether Carroll could be part of a package deal meant to land Bowden's top offseason target -- pitching.
Bowden, meanwhile, said he doesn't know when his second interview for the position of Red Sox general manager will take place. He and Jim Beattie, the former co-GM of the Baltimore Orioles, have both been asked back to speak with Sox officials again.
The Red Sox announced yesterday the emergence of a new candidate: David Wilder, the director of player development for the Chicago White Sox. Wilder will interview in Boston today.