At this point in his career, there's little reason to think Rick Ankiel - who signed a one-year deal with the Nationals today - is anything more than a fourth outfielder. But the Nationals are stretched thin enough in the outfield at the moment that adding Ankiel makes some sense from a depth perspective, even if odds are long that he turns out to be a key contributor.
The 31-year-old, whose well-documented career included a shift from top pitching prospect to outfielder after his control left him, signed an incentive-laden deal with the team, first reported by Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman. He bats from the left side, the same as Roger Bernadina and Nyjer Morgan, the two players whose possible struggles the Nationals are hoping to insure against. He also adds another left-handed bat to a bench that only has minor-league free agent Matt Stairs as a possibility on that side of the plate. Injuries limited him to 74 games last year, but he hit 11 homers in 122 games in 2009.
Ankiel has been atrocious against left-handed pitching (he has a career OPS of .690 against them), so he doesn't give the Nationals any platoon advantages when they want to sit Morgan or Bernadina. But he's played all three outfield spots, and adds another possibility to the Nationals' outfield, particularly if Bernadina struggles.
The Nationals would have probably preferred a right-handed bat here, but manager Jim Riggleman has a history with Ankiel - he was an instructor in the Cardinals' minor league system while Ankiel was making his position switch. At the very least, Ankiel gives them another option in the outfield.