Nationals add Hairston to middle infield derby

According to multiple published reports, the Nationals have signed veteran utility man Jerry Hairston Jr., who will get $2 million for 2011, along with incentives that could push the total value of his contract to $3 million.

The 34-year-old Hairston, who hit .244 with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs for the Padres last season, gives the Nationals a versatile presence who can play all across the infield and outfield. He’s played mostly second base and shortstop in his 13-year major league career, so he provides insurance for rookie Danny Espinosa, the presumed starter at second in 2011.

Hairston’s signing could affect a couple of guys who were expected to compete for backup middle infield roles. Alberto Gonzalez is a slick fielder, but could be hard-pressed to keep his roster spot in what amounts to a competition in spring training. Washington’s addition of veteran Alex Cora, who signed a minor league deal with a spring training invite earlier this week, further complicates the middle infield picture.

The Nationals were in need of a veteran utility player after cutting ties with Willie Harris, who signed earlier this week with the New York Mets. General manager Mike Rizzo made it one of his offseason priorities to upgrade the Washington bench with versatile, athletic players.

Hairston is a career .257 hitter with 59 homers, 341 RBIs and 143 stolen bases.