In need of a backup first baseman and some pop off the bench, the Washington Nationals signed Matt Adams to a one-year contract worth $4 million guaranteed Wednesday, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Adams can earn up to another $500,000 in incentives.
Adams, 29, effectively replaces Adam Lind, who became a free agent last month after the Nationals declined his $5 million mutual option. Instead, Washington gave Lind a $500,000 buyout. By going with Adams, the Nationals will spend anywhere from $4.5 to $5 million, combined, on the backup first basemen.
Why choose Adams over Lind after Lind’s resurgent season as one of the most productive bench players in baseball in 2017? For one, Adams may end up costing less. Second, he is five years younger than his predecessor. Third, he is a very similar player who has produced at nearly an identical clip.
While Lind owns a 112 career OPS+, Adams’s is 111. (OPS+ normalizes a player’s on-base-plus-slugging percentage, adjusting for park effects and other factors. A 100 OPS+ is the league average.) The two also have very similar career splits. For his career, Lind is batting .288 with an .852 OPS against righties and .217 with a .592 OPS against left-handers — though Lind was better off southpaws last season. Adams, meanwhile, has batted .286 with an .828 OPS against right-handers and .206 batting average with a .593 OPS against lefties in his career.
In other words, both have mashed right-handed pitching and struggled against lefties. Expect Adams to assume the roles Washington planned for Lind before injuries ravaged Washington’s roster and forced him to play more left field than expected — the team’s top pinch-hitting option late in games against righties and the occasional start at first base against right-handed starters to afford Ryan Zimmerman a day off.
A starter for most of his career, Adams broke into the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 and was a steady presence until they dealt him to the Atlanta Braves last May. He batted .274 with 20 home runs and an .841 OPS in 131 games between the two clubs. Like Lind, he can play left field in emergency situations; he played there for the first time in the majors in 2017.
Adams is the first position player the Nationals have signed this offseason. Other bench additions are likely coming. The club could probably use a backup infielder because Washington would need Wilmer Difo, the club’s utility man, to start at second base if Daniel Murphy isn’t ready for the start of the season after he had knee surgery in October. The Nationals could also be in the market for a catcher to partner with Matt Wieters. As of now, Pedro Severino will serve as Wieters’s backup.
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