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Nationals agree to deal with Brian Dozier

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Nationals agree to deal with Brian Dozier

The Nationals reached a one-year, $9 million deal with second baseman Brian Dozier on Thursday morning, according to a source, landing a home run hitter and quality glove to all but complete their offseason -- outside of Bryce Harper.

General manager Mike Rizzo often said the team would be satisfied starting the season with a platoon of Wilmer Difo and Howie Kendrick. As the market for second baseman crept along, Rizzo began to shift his stance. He eventually came to an agreement with Dozier, who hit 21 home runs last season while playing for the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Signing Dozier allows the Nationals to have enough depth among their second base trio. It also does not stunt the path of premier prospect Carter Kieboom, who is expected to arrive in the majors at some point this season and will likely start out at second base despite being a natural shortstop. Trea Turner holds that spot in the big leagues.

Dozier, entering his age-32 season, rose to prominence in Minnesota when he became an All-Star in 2015 before hitting 42 home runs in 2016. He hit 34 more in 2017 and won a Gold Glove at second base, where he has played 910 of 993 career games.

His arrival, if just for a year, provides the Nationals a trio of things they could use: The first is more overall power on the team. It comes cheap in this instance at $9 million. The second is a quality glove at second base. Daniel Murphy’s lacking defense was a detriment at the spot in recent years and the organization was adamant it wanted to get better up the middle. Third, it provides a sure answer to the position. Dozier should be set to play 130-140 games, repositioning Difo as a utility infielder and Kendrick, who is coming off an Achilles tendon tear but expects to be ready for spring training, as a pinch-hitter.

Dozier also provides further lineup depth. He’s a right-handed hitter who has more power against right-handed pitchers but also hits for a better average against left-handed throwers. One version of a Nationals lineup could feature Dozier’s power all the way down in the eighth spot.

Adding Dozier gives the Nationals their fifth former All-Star as a new addition to the roster this offseason. Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, reliever Trevor Rosenthal and new catchers Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki have all made appearances in the midsummer classic.

The signing completes Rizzo’s offseason to-do list. Now, he, and everyone else, waits on Harper.

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Aaron Barrett reaches another milestone in his comeback attempt

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Aaron Barrett reaches another milestone in his comeback attempt

Aaron Barrett is an easy player to root for, and if he can complete his impressive comeback, Nats fans will get to do just that this summer.

The reliever has undergone a long, arduous process in his attempt to return to Major League Baseball. Barrett appeared in 90 games over the course of 2014 and 2015 and recorded a 3.47 ERA, but in September of 2015 he underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Later that year, he required surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle.

Nearly 11 months after Tommy John, Barrett fractured his elbow while rehabbing, requiring yet another surgery.

This week, the fan favorite moved one step closer to finally returning, as his big league bullpen session represented a major milestone for Barrett.

“It was good. I felt good,” according to Barrett. “It’s another milestone to check, but I know what the ultimate goal is, and that’s to get back to D.C. and pitch in the big leagues. So this was a good first step.”

It’s clear his goals are still much bigger than a bullpen session in February, but that doesn’t diminish from the significance of his first real big league camp in four years. That’s not something Barrett has lost sight of.

“I think it’s just significant seeing the staff and the other guys watching me pitch in big league camp,” the reliever said. “A lot of these guys didn’t get to see me pitch last year. I think to witness it firsthand is kind of an accomplishment... I’m just blessed to be on this side and be able to compete.”

As much as fans would love to be optimistic about his chances to make the Major League roster, and as enthusiastic Barrett is about throwing with Major League teammates again, the reliever was also sure to clarify that this is only one step in a long journey.

“I would be lying to you if I said I was just happy to be here,” said Barrett. “My mindset has been since Day 1 to get back to the big leagues and pitch in the big leagues. It’s not: Hey, I’m going to rehab to just throw again. My mindset has never changed. Yeah, I’m here to compete.”

Barrett went on to emphasize where his focus is going to be.

“I think the Nationals know what I’m capable of when I’m healthy, and I’m here to prove that I’m healthy. At the end of the day, that’s all I can control. Go out there, try to get guys out when they give me an opportunity to pitch. And at the end of the day, if I get sent down or whatever, that’s all I can really do. I’m looking forward to every opportunity that gets thrown at me.”

Despite the constant injury setbacks, Barrett has kept his eye on the big leagues, and continued to rehab with the goal of appearing in the majors on his mind.

The reliever signed an under-the-radar deal (his words) early in the offseason. It was a minor league deal with a spring training invite, so he knows it’s far from a lock that he ends up on the Opening Day roster. For him, there’s no place he’d rather be.

“The Nationals have been tremendous with me through the entire process,” Barrett said. “The group of guys we have here and the staff, why wouldn’t I want to come back and complete my journey?”

It makes sense why Barrett would want to return to the big leagues with an organization that has stuck by him.

“Absolutely. The Nationals could’ve easily written me off,” he explained when asked if he was surprised by the support he’s received from Washington. “But I think just a credit to the front office and the training staff and the type of organization the Nationals are. We’re family, and they treat guys like family. I’ve been blessed to be able to continue to rehab with them. They’ve seen it through. It’s just a tribute to them to stick with me and see it through. And I’m ready to show all the hard work is going to pay off.”

The road to Major League Baseball still has a ways to go, but Barrett represents a great story for fans and teammates to follow. What best sums up his experience on his first day back was simple: “It was just a lot of fun.”

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Jeremy Hellickson had to wait all offseason to end up right where he wanted to be

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Jeremy Hellickson had to wait all offseason to end up right where he wanted to be

Up until a few weeks ago, it seemed like Jeremy Hellickson might not have the job he wanted in baseball this season. Now, he’s back with the Nationals, and it appears he’s going to have a really good chance to solidify the fifth spot in the starting rotation. 

As happy as he is to be with Washington, the relief of coming back as he’d hoped would happen doesn’t lessen his frustration with the past few months.

While Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have received most of the headlines surrounding baseball’s slow-as-molasses offseason, the trickle-down effect has been second and third tier free agents finding themselves unemployed in February. 

Hellickson had been one of those non-elite free agents forced to play the waiting game up until a few weeks ago. He also went through a similarly drawn-out free agency last offseason, so he certainly knows how tough it can be.

“It doesn’t feel good,” the pitcher described. “I really wasn’t expecting this offseason to be like last, but it got to that point in the middle of January that I started feeling like I did two offseasons ago. It just sucks. It’s not a good feeling. You know you can help a lot of teams and a lot of rotations out there... I wanted to be back here.”

Hellickson pitched to a 3.45 ERA in 2018, accumulating 1.4 bWAR in just over 91 innings. Those numbers suggest he’s overqualified for a spot in the backend of a rotation, so he had reasonably expected more interest from teams this winter. He knew last offseason would be a struggle, but in 2018 he felt like he “was good when [he] was out there.”

While his stat line points to a reliable starting pitcher, there’s no guarantee Hellickson winds up in the rotation. The Nationals have some depth when it comes to competition for the fifth spot, though Hellickson appears to have the inside track to the job.

“I haven’t been told much,” Hellickson explained when asked about his specific role. “The big thing for me was I didn’t want to come into camp and have to compete for a job again. I felt like I proved myself enough last year where I didn’t have to do that. That was part of the dialogue when we were talking. That’s kind of where we left it.”

Hellickson continued on what he brings to the table.

“I don’t really look at myself as a five-inning pitcher. I’ve been throwing six-plus innings my whole career up until last year. And I could’ve done that plenty of times. I was out of there after 5 1/3, 5 2/3, 75 pitches. It’s tough to go through a lineup three times. Those guys are really good. There can’t be a lot of pitchers that have great numbers three times through. But hopefully I get stretched out a little bit this spring and I'll be able to do what I did in the past.”

As is the case with most players in early interviews this spring, the questions ultimately circle back to the state of MLB free agency again.

“It’s unfortunate,” Hellickson says. “It’s kind of sad. There’s so much talent out there right now. It just sucks when there’s only 10-12 teams actually trying and signing guys and wanting to compete. It sucks for the fans of those teams. Hopefully something gets done in the next few years, but there’s way too much talent out there to be sitting at home at the start of spring training.”

This week alone, Max Scherzer, Dave Martinez, Sean Doolittle and Adam Eaton have all already touched on the issues surrounding baseball’s offseason, and as other players arrive in West Palm Beach that group will certainly grow. More than any of those players, Hellickson knows firsthand what a slow Hot Stove season can mean for someone not guaranteed a roster spot.

From the time free agency kicked off, Hellickson always hoped he’d be back in Washington. He wants to pitch for a winning organization, and he knows the Nats have unfinished business after a disappointing 2018. 

The pitcher believes he can best help the team by going deeper into games, but at the end of the day, he envisions his role in one way: “Whatever we need to do to win games.”

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