Source: Nats add veteran outfielder Winker on minor league deal

It didn’t happen until the second-to-last day of the offseason, but the Nationals finally added another potential bat to their 2024 lineup.

The Nats have signed veteran outfielder Jesse Winker to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. Though he didn’t get a guaranteed contract, Winker should have a good chance to make the Opening Day roster if he’s healthy after an injury-plagued 2023 season.

An All-Star with the Reds in 2021, Winker is the owner of a strong .369 on-base percentage and .813 OPS over a seven-year career. His breakthrough 2021 campaign included 32 doubles and 24 homers in only 485 plate appearances, with a .305/.394/.556 slash line.

But the last two seasons saw a drastic drop in Winker’s production, from a .688 OPS with the Mariners in 2022 to a .567 OPS last season with the Brewers. His one year in Milwaukee, though, was marred by neck, back and leg injuries, leading to two long stints on the IL.

A minor league deal signed two days before pitchers and catchers report for spring training signals the lingering doubts the Nationals and other clubs had about Winker. But the 30-year-old’s track record, combined with the Nats’ specific need right now, suggests he’s likely to come north with the team if he proves he’s healthy again.

The Nationals filled two of their lineup needs this winter with the signings of Joey Gallo to play left field and Nick Senzel to play third base. But with Joey Meneses expected to move to first base after the team didn’t tender a contract to Dominic Smith, there were no remaining experienced hitters who might serve as designated hitter.

The left-handed Winker could pair up nicely with the right-handed Stone Garrett (if he’s fully recovered from a broken leg suffered in August) in the DH role, also seeing some time in left field and perhaps even at first base.

And if Winker proves not to be healthy – or struggles mightily at the plate this spring – the Nats are under no obligation to add him to the big league roster and wouldn’t be responsible for his salary.

The Washington Post was first to report the signing.

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