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Matt Adams returning fills a very specific need for the Nationals

Matt Adams returns to the Nationals on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2020. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
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Once their season skidded to a halt, when the Washington Nationals roster was stripped around the edges, when an 82-80 record had finally defined them, when a critical winter was beginning to call, there were parallel interests between the franchise and a familiar player floating into the open market.

Matt Adams needed a contract for 2019, at least eventually, even if his short-term job prospects were never in doubt. The Nationals needed a left-handed-hitting first baseman, and while Adams may have had many teams to choose from, the Nationals' pool of options was not so deep. They also needed power. They also needed a fielder capable of spelling veteran Ryan Zimmerman from time to time. They needed Matt Adams, or at the very least a player just like him, and so they went out and signed Adams this weekend after the 30-year-old played 94 games for them last year.

It didn’t take long for those parallel interests to collide.

“I don’t follow too much of the media stuff in the offseason, but the way that everything was left when I was traded, we were in good communication up until that point,” Adams said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Everything that was said leading up to that trade, that if the opportunity presented itself than I would be on their list. And you know, it’s just..."

Adams paused for a moment and changed course.

“I’m kind of at a loss for words because I’m so excited for this opportunity,” he said. “But I think the team is better than we were last year with the acquisitions [General Manager Mike Rizzo] has made this offseason, and I don’t think we’re done yet either.”

All of that is connected in some way. First, the Nationals traded Adams in a money-saving move once their season had angled into deep disappointment this past August. But they indicated to Adams that he would be on their radar once they began retooling for 2019, knowing he would be a free agent and a good fit on the field and in the clubhouse. Second, the Nationals have been baseball’s most aggressive team this offseason and that can have a cumulative effect on roster construction. When they signed Patrick Corbin in early December, the prized left-handed starter noted the Nationals' addition of two proven catchers (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes) as one of the reasons he chose Washington. And Adams, while expressing his eagerness to return Tuesday, acknowledged the Nationals are moving in the right direction after plodding through last season.

In quickly addressing their more glaring needs — a front-line starting pitcher, production behind the plate, bullpen help — the Nationals are now able to pinpoint their more specific ones. That is how they again aligned with Adams, nearly a year after they signed him last winter, and the result was ideal for both sides.

“It’s an A-class organization and a place that feels like home to me,” Adams said of why returning was the right move for him. “I was only there for three-quarters of a season but it felt way longer than that.”

Now it will be at least a bit longer, as Adams signed a one-year, $3 million deal with a mutual option for 2020 and a $1 million buyout. That came after he spent the end of the season with the St. Louis Cardinals, his home for the first five seasons of his seven-year career. In 337 plate appearances in 2018 — 277 with the Nationals and 60 with the Cardinals — Adams hit smacked 21 home runs and hit .239, well below his career batting average of .266. But power is what the Nationals were seeking in this signing, and Adams’s has increased incrementally in recent years.

There is a good chance Bryce Harper lands with another team this winter, meaning the Nationals will be without the team-leading 34 home runs he hit last season. The Nationals will also likely be without second baseman Daniel Murphy and bench bat Mark Reynolds, who also provided power (or at least the threat of it), which makes Adams’s return even more crucial. Most of his opportunities will come as a pinch-hitter off the bench, but he should get a handful of starts in place of the 34-year-old Zimmerman. It is the exact same role Adams filled last season, so he is ready to embrace the scattered at-bats and the expectation of producing in them.

“Coming in with the mind-set of just being ready when your name is called,” Adams said of what he learned in his first go-round with the Nationals. “Whether it’s on an everyday basis or whether it’s sporadic, here and there, or filling in off the bench and then filling in or giving Zim a blow when he needs it.”

The Nationals, in one signing, gave themselves a player who can do all of that with a skill set their roster was missing. Sometimes needs align to make a mutual fit.

Read more on the Nationals:

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