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Nationals, pitcher Trevor Williams agree to two-year, $13 million deal

Trevor Williams, seen here pitching for the Chicago Cubs in 2021, could fill a couple roles for the Nationals. But he likely has an inside track to join the rotation. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The Washington Nationals and right-hander Trevor Williams agreed to a two-year deal, according to two people familiar with the situation, giving Washington a much-needed pitcher who could start or eat innings out of the bullpen. The contract is for $13 million and was still pending a physical as of Friday morning, though that’s typically a formality once this stage of negotiations is reached.

Williams, 30, made 30 appearances and nine starts for the New York Mets in 2022, posting a 3.21 ERA in 89⅔ innings. Before landing in New York, he made stops with the Pittsburgh Pirates (five years) and Chicago Cubs (one). He was a second-round pick by the Miami Marlins in 2013.

Since the beginning of this offseason, Washington General Manager Mike Rizzo has stressed the need for veteran arms to help prop up an inexperienced staff. And while Williams could fill multiple roles, he probably has the inside track to join MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, Cade Cavalli and Patrick Corbin in the rotation. Given the Nationals’ tight budget this winter, a $6.5 million salary means they will want him to have a significant role.

To this point of the winter, the starting pitcher market has been active and notably expensive. Aside from big names such as Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander, Matthew Boyd, Mike Clevinger and Kyle Gibson set a high bar for short-term contracts. Boyd received a one-year, $10 million deal from the Detroit Tigers after throwing just 13⅓ innings in 2022. Clevinger, once a potential ace, was mediocre last season and still landed with the Chicago White Sox on a one-year, $12 million contract. Gibson was squeezed out of the Philadelphia Phillies’ playoff plans and then went to the Orioles for one year and $10 million.

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With Williams, Washington may have tamped down the average annual value of his contract by making it for two years. He last pitched a full year as a major league starter in 2018, when he turned in 31 starts for the Pirates. And because the market picked up in recent days, timing and cost made him a logical addition for the Nationals, who are not expected to make many more splashes ahead of spring training. An uncertain ownership situation has left the front office in a holding pattern, leaving Rizzo to improve the margins of a roster that only recently played to Washington’s third consecutive last place finish.

Mid-Atlantic Sports Network first reported that the two sides had an agreement. The Athletic first reported the value of Williams’s deal.

Once official, the move will put the Nationals’ 40-man roster at 40. They added third baseman Jeimer Candelario and outfielder Stone Garrett in late November, then were quiet at the winter meetings in San Diego this week. On Monday, they met with representatives for right-handed starter Jordan Lyles, who spent last season with the Baltimore Orioles and reliably pitched deep into games. But now Washington will hope Williams can provide a similar service, especially after their starters made a habit out of overtaxing the bullpen.

The best case for the Nationals? Williams clicks in the rotation and is a desired player come July, when they are expected to again flip veterans for future contributors. In theory, an additional year of team control would increase Williams’s value, as would a proven ability to pitch out of the bullpen. Across 21 relief appearances in 2022, Williams logged a 2.47 ERA in 51 innings. His strikeout rate jumped, too. So while the Nationals could very well start him in April, other clubs might eventually be enticed by a versatile arm for a playoff push.

Those are at a premium every summer. Friday’s agreement, then, is mutually beneficial, with Williams getting a good payday and the chance to pitch for the Nationals and a contender in the life of his contract. If his results lead Washington to deal him at one of the next two deadlines, everyone would seem to win.