At the end of last year’s season, rumors swirled about the Washington Nationals pursuit of an everyday center fielder. Since then, at one point or another they have been connected to almost every potential option out there. From trading for B.J. Upton, Peter Bourjos, Gerardo Parra, or Adam Jones to signing free agents Nick Swisher, Coco Crisp, or Grady Sizemore, there has been an excessive amount of speculation fueling rumors. Finally, two weeks before opening day, the consensus has shifted and determined that the Nationals may limit their search after announcing that they would be sending Bryce Harper down to AAA to get center field experience.
Just yesterday though Washington made another small move that may have an effect very early in the season. The front office signed former New York Mets OF Xavier Nady to a minor league deal. Nady, a 10-year veteran, has played for 6 different teams in his career, playing every outfield position and first base. Over these years he has accumulated a career .275 batting average with a .328 on base percentage as well as a solid .981 combined fielding percentage at every position. Based on this consistent past performance, along with his defensive versatility, he actually has a small chance to compete for the starting center field position or a bench position at some point this season as long as he prospers quickly in the minors.
Almost every Nationals fan knows that spring training will determine who will be the Opening Day center fielder for the Nationals. With Bryce Harper optioned to AAA after his golden sombrero, he has exited the running for this opportunity. This leaves the competition open to three players, newly acquired Brett Carroll, Roger Bernadina, and former pitcher Rick Ankiel. Currently it is neck and neck for the position. While Ankiel has not played in many games due to a minor hamstring issue, his impressive arm always amazes and because of his performance last year he is the current favorite. Bernadina hasn’t been outstanding offensively batting .231 in 26 AB, but just like Ankiel his defensive prowess is above average. Carroll has played the most of the three and anyone who has watched has seen his specialties, heart and hustle. All three of these players all have the capabilities to have average offensive seasons with great defense, but so far none have lived up to their potential in the regular season to guarantee themselves a position.
This is where Nady comes in. As some people know from last season with the signings of both Alex Cora and Jerry Hairston Jr., Mike Rizzo loves veteran utility players such as Nady. He knows that most veterans can provide leadership and support in the clubhouse that young players just can’t because of inexperience. If the center field position does not work out for at least two of the three players competing very early (emphasis on very early) in the regular season look for Nady’s name to be mentioned as a possible option because of his experience. Otherwise after Harper is called up from AAA to fill center field, his only real chance will be as a bench player. To even get a chance at playing in the majors with the Nationals, Nady will have to prove that he is back to his old form in the minors. Also, the current major league bench players will have to play poor enough to be sent down to the minors, or someone will have to get hurt. Since the possibility of this happening after pretty slim, Nady’s chances of making the majors is even slimmer. If anything fans should view this signing as insurance for a major collapse, nothing more. It may all amount to nothing but at least Nady is there if the Nats need him.