The Nationals continue to talk to the A's about a blockbuster swap for left-hander Gio Gonzalez, and they're moving closer to locking in a veteran utility man that manager Davey Johnson has wanted to add all offseason.
According to baseball sources with knowledge of the negotiations, the Nationals are closing in on a deal with 36-year-old Mark DeRosa, whose versatility would fit well with Johnson's rejiggered bench. The right-handed-hitting DeRosa is a 14-season major leaguer and has played every position except pitcher, catcher and center field. It's not known whether DeRosa will get a major league deal or a minor league contract with a spring training invitation so he can prove he's recovered from a series of troublesome wrist problems.
The Nationals have been linked to DeRosa, who played for Johnson in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, most of the offseason. And though he's coming off two injury-marred seasons with the Giants, Johnson is adamant that he can help bolster the defense-first bench he inherited from former skipper Jim Riggleman. Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo have made improving the Nationals' reserves a top priority this offseason.
"I looked at his last two years and they weren't too stellar," Johnson said during the Winter Meetings in Dallas. "I know he had injured his left wrist, but I had him in the World Baseball Classic, and he's a really quality guy. I really like him. If he's healthy, he fits the role about as good as you can get."
Assuming he's recovered and hasn't lost his bat speed, DeRosa would slot into the multiple-position role held last season by veteran Alex Cora. But where Cora was a good glove who offered minimal offense - 35 homers and a .243 average in 14 seasons - DeRosa is a versatile fielder who has little more pop. We covered how he might fit on the Nationals' bench in a previous post.
During his career with the Braves, Rangers, Cubs, Indians, Cardinals and Giants, DeRosa is a .272 career hitter with 93 home runs and 452 RBIs. His best season came in 2008 in the Windy City, where he had 21 homers, a career-best 87 RBIs and a .285 average while matching his career-high with 149 games.
As recenly as 2009, DeRosa logged 139 games between the Cardinals and Indians, totaling 23 homers and 78 RBIs. He parlayed that into a two-year, $12 million deal with the Giants, but played in only 26 games in 2010 and 47 in 2011 with wrist problems dating to offseason surgery following 2009. During his time in San Francisco, DeRosa hit one homer, drove in 22 runs and scored 18 runs.
The Nationals have pored over his medical records and seem convinced the wrist injury was an aberration. Johnson loves the fact that DeRosa can play all over the field - he's primarily a second baseman/third baseman, but his ability to play first base cushions the loss of first baseman Chris Marrero to a torn hamstring that could sideline him until July.
Update: According to this tweet from CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, the Nats and DeRosa have agreed to a deal. Looks like it's a major league deal, pending the obligatory physical.