CHICAGO - The Nationals came into this year feeling like they had a solid, well-rounded bench, based largely upon what guys like Roger Bernadina, Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi had done in 2012.
After watching those guys struggle for much of this season, however, the Nats made another deal with the Cubs to add a bench player today (their second such deal with Chicago in six weeks), acquiring veteran outfielder David DeJesus for a player to be named later.
The move led to the release of Bernadina, who was the longest-tenured player in the Nationals organization.
DeJesus can play all three outfield positions and is a career .279 hitter who has a .793 OPS against right-handed pitching this season. He’s versatile, has some speed and is a good presence in the clubhouse.
“He improves our left-handed side of the bench immediately,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s also a guy that is capable of being an everyday player. He can step in there for extended periods of time if there are injuries, that type of thing. He helps us in a variety of ways. He’s really wearing out right-handed pitching right now. He’s a high on-base percentage guy in his career. A consummate professional hitter.”
The Nats had DeJesus on their radar for some time now, but were unable to get a deal done with the Cubs prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. That didn’t end their pursuit of the 33-year-old, however, as they put in a waiver claim on DeJesus and were able to complete a trade with the Cubs.
DeJesus has a $6.5 million team option for next season or the Nats can buy out that option for $1.5 million. Rizzo declined to specify the team’s plans for DeJesus beyond this season.
“He’s a controllable player for us,” Rizzo said. “We have a club option for him after this season. And we’ll have to determine if we want to exercise the club option or if we’ll use the buyout clause in the contract.”
Manager Davey Johnson said he was “probably was as surprised as everyone else” by the trade for DeJesus.
“First I heard his name was about 12:30 (p.m.) when Riz said that we picked him up on a waiver claim,” Johnson said. “Last couple of moves I was kind of surprised at the timing, to be honest. He’s a good player.”
That said, we might not see a whole lot of DeJesus the rest of this season. The Nats already have two left-handed-hitting outfielders in Bryce Harper and Denard Span, who play every day but are always in the lineup against right-handed pitching, when healthy. And beyond that, Johnson sounds like he wants to give Tyler Moore some additional playing time now that Moore is back up from a red-hot stint in Triple-A.
“I’m sure that he wants to play,” Johnson said of DeJesus. “But Harper needs to play, most definitely. (Jayson) Werth is having an outstanding season. Span is doing a great job defensively, his bat is picking up. I’m more concerned, with where we’re at in the standings, getting the young guys more at-bats than some of the veteran-type players.”
Bernadina put together his best season as a big leaguer last year, posting a slash line of .291/.372/.405, but this season he struggled mightily, putting up a slash line of .178/.247/.270. His OPS was the fifth-worst in all of Major League Baseball among players with at least 150 plate appearances.
“I’m not sure what it was,” Rizzo said. “Mechanically, he never got himself righted. He is a guy with an abundance of tools and skills and really hit within himself last year and utilized his speed and line drives and that type of thing. He just could never get on track this year and it was something that we were waiting for throughout the season and it just didn’t happen.”
“He’s still kind of a young player, and anytime you don’t have an opportunity to come out of spring training and get at-bats early and get something going, it’s a lot more difficult for a younger player to sit around and lose your timing and be able to perform,” Johnson said. “That’s why I’ve always liked veteran players on the bench.”
Because he was released, Bernadina is now free to sign with any team. Had the Nationals opted to designate him for assignment, Bernadina would have been put through the waiver process and if he went unclaimed, the Nats could have opted to send Bernadina to the minors, trade him or release him.
Back to DeJesus, it’s unclear what the future holds for him beyond this season, but Rizzo hopes that the move will help push the Nats forward. And yes, he still holds out hope that the Nats can make a run at the playoffs, even trailing by 9 1/2 games in the race for the final NL wild card spot.
“We’re going to take this thing one game at a time, but I certainly haven’t given up on this season,” Rizzo said, “and I think that with the talent level that we have on this ballclub that we still have a run left in us.”