The Nationals planned to overhaul their underperforming bench, but in Nix they lost a power hitter who could mash right-handed pitching and, for a time, worked his way into the starting lineup. Last year, Nix clubbed a career-high 16 home runs, all of them against right-handers, and hit .263 with a .306 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching.
The Nationals and Nix had discussions immediately after the season, and the sides had more dialogue later in the offseason. But the allure of a two-year deal, for a player who had never before signed a big league deal, proved too much to pass up.
The Nationals signed Nix as a minor league free agent last February, and after an impressive start Nix worked his way into the starting lineup, replacing Michael Morse in left field. He could play left or right field and covered a surprising amount of ground for his size. He was well-liked by teammates, a veteran part of the clubhouse bedrock.
Nix’s season hit a snag as he fought a sore left hamstring, which never fully healed and frequently kept him on the bench. He still played well enough to earn the first major league deal of his career, and a two-year one at that. With the Phillies, Nix serve as a platoon in left field with John Mayberry Jr.
Behind signing a starting pitcher – preferably Mark Buerhle – and acquiring a center fielder, the Nationals’ priority at the winter meetings will be building a bench. Nationals pinch-hitters last year hit .186, 23rd in the major leagues. Manager Davey Johnson has said he wants more of a power-hitting threat off the bench – the kind Nix could have provided.
With Nix no longer an option, the Nationals may be more inclined to re-sign free agent Rick Ankiel. He would provide a versatile fourth outfielder with some pop who could play all three outfield spots. And he’s also got perhaps the best outfield arm in the game.