The Washington Nationals have agreed to a deal with first baseman Matt Adams, pending a physical, a person familiar with the situation confirmed Saturday afternoon. The contract is for one year and $3 million, with a mutual option for 2020 and a $1 million buyout.
Adams played 94 games for the Nationals in 2018 before he was traded in August in a payroll-saving move. He signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Nationals on Dec. 22, 2017. This offseason he was able to lock up his short-term future a week sooner, and the new deal does not necessarily mean he will make less money for the coming season. Mutual options don’t typically get picked up and, if Adams’s isn’t, he will end up making $4 million.
The 30-year-old fills a need for the Nationals: a slugging, left-handed bat who can spell Ryan Zimmerman at first base and provide power off the bench. Adams hit a combined 21 home runs for the Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals last season, and he hit 20 in 2017. His batting average dipped a bit in 2018 — down to .239 — but he is a career .266 hitter who has averaged 22 home runs per 162 games in his seven-year career.
The signing is the Nationals' seventh significant move since early October in what has been an active offseason. General Manager Mike Rizzo started by adding two relievers (Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal), then acquired two veteran catchers (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes), signed prized left-handed starter Patrick Corbin, traded starter Tanner Roark to gives the Nationals additional financial flexibility, and now has brought Adams back to strengthen the bench.
The move could also help the Nationals account for the power and production that will be missing if Bryce Harper signs elsewhere. That makes Adams even more valuable to a team that, as of now, is better suited to play “small ball” than it is to hit the ball over the fence. Adams’s big bat helps with the latter, as he is a reliable home run hitter who will find himself in multiple roles. The first will be as a pinch-hitter. The second will be as a spot starter in place of the right-handed Zimmerman, who appeared in 85 games last season and has often battled injuries in the back half of his career.
And since Adams’s returns to the Nationals on a cheap one-year deal, the team still has payroll flexibility for other moves. Still left on their offseason checklist is starting pitching, and they have expressed interest in veterans Wade Miley and Anibal Sanchez as they look to fill out a rotation that already includes Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin, with depth options in Joe Ross and Erick Fedde.
They also are exploring the second base market and have had multiple discussions with representatives of DJ LeMahieu, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. But the Nationals are more likely to seek a cheaper option than LeMahieu, according to another person with knowledge of their plans, and could see players like Brian Dozier, Josh Harrison or Jed Lowrie as a better fit.
And depending on how their second base situation shakes out, the Nationals also may be in the market for another outfielder to come off the bench. If they do sign a full-time second baseman, that role could be filled by veteran utility man Howie Kendrick, who plays second base, first base and the corner outfield positions.
But with Adams signed, those are the tasks to which the Nationals will now shift their full attention.
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