Every team signs players for their veteran "clubhouse presence.” We're not talking about guys like Jayson Werth that signs a long-term deal. He's usually a guy with a lot of experience, closer to the end if his career than the beginning of it, and he usually contributes in a bench role. Last week, I was listening to MLB Network Radio and former Nats pinch hitter Matt Stairs was on. It got me thinking, how much success have the Washington Nationals had with their top three “veteran presence” signings from the last three years?
Mark DeRosa - DeRosa had a very nice career in the not so distant past. He had a decent 2011 in San Francisco with a shortened season due to injury, and he put up stud numbers during two years with the Cubs in 2007 and 2008. DeRosa hasn’t exactly lit up for the Nats like they hoped, but he’s one of three guys on the Nats with a World Series ring (Jayson Werth and Edwin Jackson are the other two). Since returning from injury, he is 5-for-15 with four walks and just three strikeouts. He’s earned his value back.
Xavier Nady - What can I say about Nady? A guy who wasn’t even in a spring training until about a week before the season started got an immediate call up to be with the Nats to start the season. And it hasn’t gone well. Nady is hitting slightly better than DeRosa at .157, and he has an identical .486 OPS.
Chad Tracy - Tracy was the leader on the bench before tearing his groin and heading to the disabled list. He’s on a rehab stint now and is scheduled to come back any week now. It’ll be a great guy to have on the bench, but GM Mike Rizzo will have to make a difficult roster move to bring him back.
Honorable Mention: Brad Lidge - Lidge was released after having a dreadful season, but it was a smart signing for Rizzo. It was relatively inexpensive and provided leadership. However, Lidge put up a 9.64 ERA and 2.464 WHIP in 11 games before he was released. It probably not how Lidge saw his career coming to an end, but that may just be the case.
Matt Stairs - One of the least productive veteran free agent signings in Rizzo’s tenure, Stairs proved to be a total flop at 43 years old with the Nats. He inexplicably took up a roster spot for four months while he posted a .426 OPS when he was supposed to be a power pinch hitter in the late innings. Stairs retired from baseball after being released by the team.
Alex Cora - Cora came in as a bench guy that could play all four infield positions, and he did during his time with the team. He replaced Ryan Zimmerman occasionally at third base while he nursed an injury, but Cora’s numbers were well below average. A .224 AVG and .287 OBP didn’t endear him to any Nats fans. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2012 season but was released in spring training.
Jerry Hairston, Jr. - Hairston is clearly the success story in this group. He was traded mid-season to the playoff bound Milwaukee Brewers and made an immediate impact on that team. He was used quite a bit during his time with the Nats, hitting .268 with a .727 OPS. He continues to do well with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, hitting near the .300 mark.
Miguel Batista - Mr. Iowa, as he will forever be known in Nationals lore, played a valuable role in DC as a long reliever and spot starter as the team limped its way to 69 wins. He has moved to a few teams since leaving DC, but has since settled with the New York Mets, and he believes they’re the best team in baseball.
Adam Kennedy - Kennedy came in to be the Nats solution at second base following the departure of Ronnie Belliard, and for $1.25 million, he didn’t do much except hit below .250 and provide below-average defense. He’s put up worse numbers since leaving DC for Seattle and LA, so Nats fans can take some solace in that, I guess.
Ivan Rodriguez - What can you say about a Hall of Famer? Pudge was the veteran core of this team, and provided teaching opportunities for all players around him. In the downswing of his career, he hit a respectable .266 as the team’s starting catcher before losing the spot to Wilson Ramos and injury in 2011.
Choosing the correct veteran to pad your bench is a more difficult job than it appears, which is proven by some of the names above. It’s hard to know which guy is at the end of his career and which one has a little gas left in the tank. The decision is made on previous numbers, but it’s also made by the GM’s gut instinct.
This year, Rizzo has done a fine job getting some guys on the bench that have made an impact, but the one thing to note in 2012 that’s different from previous years? None of them are starters this season. Now that’s progress.