WASHINGTON -- The Nationals signed free-agent second baseman James Dozier to a one-year, $9 million contract and designated infielder Matt Reynolds for assignment on Sunday.
A portion of Dozier's salary will also be deferred, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.
At the start of the offseason, the Nationals downplayed the need to improve at second base, saying that they would be comfortable starting the season with the options already on their roster. That sentiment changed with an influx of options available both in free agency and on the trade market at the position. Always seeking value, the Nats knew they might be able to nab a quality player at a reasonable price.
The Nationals eventually closed in on Dozier, 31, who is coming off a down year with the Dodgers and Twins but has the kind of raw power and veteran presence the Nats value. Through seven seasons in the Majors, Dozier has averaged 28 home runs, 16 stolen bases and a 108 OPS+, making the All-Star team in 2015 and winning an American League Gold Glove Award in '17. Despite that award, Dozier has had his share of defensive issues in the past -- minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved in '18 and minus-4 in '17 -- but he should still provide an enormous upgrade from Daniel Murphy at second.
If Dozier can bounce back offensively from a difficult 2018, when he posted a slash line of .215/.305/.391 with 21 home runs and an 0.8 Fangraphs WAR, the Nationals could be looking at a steal.
Dozier also provides a short-term solution at second base until the Nationals believe Carter Kieboom, their No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is ready to take over. Kieboom, whose natural position is shortstop, began playing second base during the Arizona Fall League this offseason, and he is expected to continue getting reps there this season. If his development continues as expected, Kieboom could reach the Majors as early as this summer, or he could be ready to take over as the starting second baseman in 2020, but Washington always prefers a stopgap solution in the meantime.
The addition of Dozier also opens up some positional flexibility for the Nationals this season, as they can shift Howie Kendrick to the bench to ease his workload coming off a torn right Achilles tendon and allow him to fill the veteran-utility-player role for which they acquired him. Wilmer Difo will round out the bench as a utility infielder.
The move also nearly completes a busy offseason for the Nationals. They have added two new catchers in Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, a pair of relievers in Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough and starters in Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. Plus, they re-signed Matt Adams as their backup first baseman, and now Dozier has been added to the revamped 2019 roster. The only remaining question for the Nats is the future of Bryce Harper, their homegrown superstar who lingers on the free-agent market.
The Nationals are still one of the teams interested in signing Harper to a mega-deal, but signing Dozier on Thursday was perhaps another example of the club covering its bases. Dozier's power should help make up for the lost pop in the lineup if Harper signs elsewhere, once again putting the Nats in a strong position to be successful no matter the ending of the Harper saga.