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Nats sign former first-rounder Michael Chavis in latest risk-reward move

The Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with infielder Michael Chavis on Monday. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
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The Washington Nationals made their first move of 2023 by agreeing to a minor league contract with infielder Michael Chavis, a person familiar with the deal said Monday. Chavis is slated to be a nonroster invite to major league spring training.

The 27-year-old played with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season and hit .229 in 129 games before being designated for assignment in September. A first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2014, Chavis made his major league debut in 2019.

Chavis would be paid $1 million if he makes the major league roster and could earn an additional $500,000 in incentives. If Chavis doesn’t crack the major league roster by June 1, he has an option to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.

Chavis could provide defensive versatility for the Nationals as a utility player — he has played 189 games at first base but also has spent time at second (96 games) and third (18). He also has played 13 games in the outfield.

Manager Dave Martinez talked at the winter meetings about giving Joey Meneses, who is likely to handle first base, days off to serve as the designated hitter. Jeimer Candelario, who was signed to play third base, could move over and play first on those days. Chavis also could slot in at first if he makes the roster, though the Nationals brought back Matt Adams on a minor league deal last month to potentially fill the same role.

At the plate, Chavis is a career .237 hitter who has blasted 40 home runs in a little more than 1,000 at-bats. He strikes out at a 29.6 percent clip without walking a ton (4.5 percent), an issue that Washington’s lineup struggled with last season.

Washington re-signed Ildemaro Vargas, its third baseman to end last season, to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration in November. The Nationals claimed former top prospect Jeter Downs off waivers just over a week ago. They also signed four infielders aside from Adams — Franklin Barreto, Travis Blankenhorn, Erick Mejia and Leonel Valera — to minor league deals with invites to spring training.

Joining a rebuilding team makes plenty of sense in a risk-reward way for Chavis, once one of the game’s top 100 prospects. He’s the third first-round pick (joining Downs and outfielder Derek Hill) whom the Nationals have brought into the organization this offseason.