PHILADELPHIA -- Chad Tracy might not have made the Nationals' Opening Day roster if not for an injury suffered by Rick Ankiel late in spring training. Little did the veteran bench player or the club know how indispensable he would become.
How indispensable? Enough to convince the Nationals to sign Tracy to a contract extension for next season right now. The two sides hashed out details over the last week and agreed to a deal before tonight's series opener against the Phillies.
"You're on a first-place team, 30 games over .500, and they're offering you an extension," Tracy said. "There's really not a whole lot better than that."
Terms of the contract aren't immediately known, but the 32-year-old is expected to receive a modest raise over his 750,000 salary for 2012.
Tracy was out of the big leagues a year ago, suffering through an injury-plagued season in Japan. He signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals over the winter and came to spring training as a non-roster invitee. He still looked like an odd-man out to break camp, but Ankiel's late quadriceps strain opened a spot for Tracy.
He never looked back, coming off the bench to deliver the game-winning hit in the Nationals' Opening Day victory in Chicago and re-establishing himself as one of the majors' best pinch-hitters. He's 8-for-25 with three doubles, a homer and 10 RBI as a pinch-hitter (tied for second-most in the majors).
"His performance allowed for him to make the club," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And he just kept exceeding expectations and played extremely well. He's a real asset on the club."
After struggling in past seasons to assemble a deep and productive bench, the Nationals made it more of a priority entering this season. That they're already locking up a key role player for 2013 underscores the importance they place on their stable of reserves.
"Yeah, I mean I think we've proven the bench can be overlooked," manager Davey Johnson said.
Now, after playing for five different organizations in five years, Tracy knows he'll be back in a familiar place in 2013.
"It's come full circle," he said. "The last couple years, two or three years, in the offseason I didn't know what was going to happen. I was signing minor-league deals and having to come in and fight in spring training to make a club. To have a guaranteed year and know where you're going next year for your family, you can kind of start planning. It's great. It's a good way to play."