The Washington Nationals have agreed to a one-year deal with veteran second baseman Brian Dozier, pending a physical, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Dozier will make $9 million in 2019, and the contract holds no options for 2020.
Dozier, 31, split last season between the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers and provides rare power in the middle of the infield. He has hit more than 20 home runs in every season since 2014 — with a career-best 42 for the Twins in 2016 — and totaled 21 across two leagues last year. The addition of Dozier gives the Nationals an experienced, full-time option at the position and injects more pop into a lineup that has mostly become speedier and more athletic this winter.
At the start of the offseason, the Nationals expressed confidence in a second base platoon of Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo. Then they asserted themselves into a crowded second base market in early December, showing interest in DJ LeMahieu, Josh Harrison and Dozier, among others.
Dozier on a one-year deal is a logical fit for the Nationals, who have begun to develop shortstops Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia, two of their top prospects, into second basemen. This means Dozier will hold the spot for a season, contribute to a team looking to win now, and the 21-year-old Kieboom could still get a chance in the not-so-distant future should he keep developing to the Nationals' liking. Washington will also be deferring $2 million of Dozier’s salary beyond 2019, which would not help the team stay under the competitive balance tax for the coming year but could give it a bit more of a spending cushion this offseason.
The Nationals have been the most active team in baseball this winter, and Dozier’s signing lengthens a list of moves that includes (in chronological order): trading for reliever Kyle Barraclough, signing setup man Trevor Rosenthal, signing catcher Kurt Suzuki, trading for catcher Yan Gomes, signing prized left-handed starter Patrick Corbin, trading starter Tanner Roark, signing first baseman Matt Adams and, before the hot stove cooled for the holidays, signing starter Anibal Sanchez. Now the Nationals have their second baseman of the immediate future and, in filling that spot along with their other glaring holes, can turn their attention to the final steps of a critical offseason.
The remaining needs for the Nationals to further solidify themselves as serious contenders are predominantly pitching related. The starting rotation consists of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Corbin and Sanchez, but it could still use a depth option or two to compete with Erick Fedde, Joe Ross and Henderson Alvarez for the fifth spot. The bullpen benefits from the additions of Rosenthal and Barraclough, but it may need another left-handed option and could benefit from any of the proven arms still floating in the free agent market. The Nationals were also still considering low-cost bench options before the calendar flipped to 2019, but adding Dozier should give them a solid bench of Adams, whichever catcher is not starting on a given day, outfielder Michael A. Taylor, Difo and Kendrick, who can play second, first base and the corner outfield spots.
Then there is Bryce Harper, whose free agency has become a leaguewide conundrum, and who could be back in the Nationals' sights after principal owner Mark Lerner stated, all the way back on Dec. 7, “I don’t really expect him to come back at this point.” Since then, the Nationals met with Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, for five hours on Dec. 22 and are one of the teams still vying for the next phase of his career, along with the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox and Dodgers.
Should they sign Harper in the coming weeks — on a deal that could be worth anywhere between $300 million to $400 million over as many as 10 years — the Nationals would reinsert one of baseball’s most feared hitters into a lineup that has grown considerably since the end of last season. And should they not, opting out of an investment that would vault them over the luxury tax and affect their payroll for a decade, that lineup is plenty compelling as is. Dozier has averaged 28 home runs over the past six seasons. He makes the Nationals' lineup deeper and softens the burden on Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman to replace what would be lost if Harper lands elsewhere.
The start of spring training is still more than a month away, and a lot could happen between now and then. But if the Nationals set out to thrive without Harper, building one move on top of another since early October, Dozier could be seen as the punctuation mark on a successful offseason. And yet that can’t be fully assessed until it’s clear whether Harper will join this revamped roster or compete against it, a question that should be answered soon enough.
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