“I’ve had a lot of friends come through the Nationals organization that rave about it, so it was definitely a priority and one of the top choices on my list,” Dozier said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. " . . . We just felt like the one-year deal with Washington is kind of the best fit for my wife and myself."
One of those friends was catcher Kurt Suzuki, who teamed with Dozier in Minnesota from 2014 to 2016 after spending parts of two seasons in Washington. The Nationals signed Suzuki to a two-year deal in November, and Dozier said the two chatted leading up to his own decision this month.
In November, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo suggested that upgrading at second base wasn’t a priority for Washington this offseason, saying he was comfortable with Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick sharing the position in 2019. Dozier, who will turn 32 in May, brings more power to the lineup than both of those options, and he is a better defender than former Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy.
Dozier is coming off his worst offensive season since he was a rookie, but he still eclipsed 20 home runs for the sixth consecutive year. An eighth-round draft pick of the Twins in 2009, he was an all-star with Minnesota in 2015 and hit a career-high 42 home runs the following year. Dozier won a Gold Glove and slashed .271/.359/.498 with 34 home runs in 2017.
With Dozier slumping and on an expiring contract, the Twins dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers at last year’s trade deadline. He failed to rebound in Los Angeles, hitting only .182 with five home runs in 47 games, and finished the season with a career-low .215 batting average. Dozier made only three starts during the Dodgers' run to the World Series, which marked his only postseason experience besides the 2017 American League wild-card game.
Late last season, Dozier revealed that he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee in April. Rather than go on the disabled list for the first time in his career, he opted to play through the pain, which affected his swing. Dozier said his knee is “100 percent” ahead of spring training.
“Obviously bruises heel up very quickly and it did so right after the World Series,” Dozier said Tuesday. “ . . . Offensively, I kind of developed some bad habits and it kind of led to some of the results that I personally didn’t want. With all that being said, it was a learning year, I guess, so to speak, and I learned how to fight through things. It kind of made me a better player and person, and I’m up for the challenge this year.”
Even if he doesn’t rebound to his 2017 levels, Dozier is a low-risk and logical fit for the Nationals, who are grooming 21-year-old prospect Carter Kieboom as their potential second baseman of the future. Kieboom is a shortstop by trade, but with 25-year-old Trea Turner occupying that spot in the Nationals' infield, Kieboom played second base for the first time during the Arizona Fall League.
Dozier is the Nationals' latest acquisition during a busy offseason that began with the signings of setup man Trevor Rosenthal and Suzuki, a trade for catcher Yan Gomes, and the addition of prized left-handed pitcher Patrick Corbin. Washington has since signed first baseman Matt Adams and right-handed starter Anibal Sanchez. The Nationals should have one of the better lineups in the National League, no matter where free agent Bryce Harper signs, and Dozier was encouraged by the moves they’ve made over the past two months.
“Seeing them obviously not making the playoffs and then responding and still being active in the free agent market, and trying to show fans that they’re all in and ready to win this year and stuff, that fuels you a little bit,” Dozier said. “I’ve been on some winning ballclubs, I’ve been on some bad ballclubs, and every time you win and every time you have everybody from the front office down expecting to win and hoping to win and things like that, it fuels you a lot. You feed off that and it brings out the best in yourself, and that helped make my decision a lot easier."
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