The trading of a player months before he becomes a free agent often comes with an important caveat: “We can always re-sign him over the winter.” Truth is, it rarely happens. Whether it’s the bad blood a player feels toward an organization for dealing him away or a genuine lack of interest from the club in bringing said player back, these reunions just don’t take place very often.
For one thing, Adams performed well during his 4 1/2 months in Washington, posting an .842 OPS that was among the best of his career. For another, he still spoke glowingly about the organization and the town after he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Cardinals, who weren’t required to give up even one player to acquire him for the stretch run.
And then there was this not-insignificant fact: The Nationals really needed Adams back, and Adams might not have been able to find a better fit for himself heading into 2019 than a return to D.C.
So Saturday’s news - Adams and the Nats agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract that also includes a mutual option or a $1 million buyout for 2020, per two sources with knowledge of the deal - shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise.
For all the speculation during the Winter Meetings that Mike Rizzo was looking for a more versatile player who could start at second base and back up at first base as well, this deal just made way too much sense. For both sides.
The Nationals get a proven, left-handed slugger who can come off the bench in a key spot late, make the occasional start at first base if Ryan Zimmerman needs a day off or take over full-time duty if Zimmerman lands on the disabled list (just as it happened this season).
Adams gets to return to a clubhouse that welcomed him with open arms and an opportunity to get significant at-bats for what should be a contending ballclub.
The Nationals also get a little bit of insurance for 2020. Though mutual options don’t often get picked up - it probably requires a player to have a down year but not so down that the club doesn’t want him back - the two sides at least are in a position to turn this into a two-year deal. Which is important in this respect: Zimmerman’s $100 million contract is only guaranteed through 2019. There’s an $18 million club option or $2 million buyout for 2020, but Zimmerman admitted he may have to negotiate a lesser deal to close out his career in a curly W uniform instead of some other one.
Point is, if there ever came a point in the next 12 months where it was clear Adams was the better choice to start at first base, the Nationals are now in a better position to make that happen.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now, all that matters is that Adams is returning in 2019, and that’s a good thing for the Nationals. Mike Rizzo now has the freedom to pursue whatever second baseman he wants, not beholden to someone who could also fill the backup first baseman role. The Nats have a proven lefty slugger on their bench who can step in and start if needed.
And Adams gets to come back to a team and a city that embraced him last season. It was a good match then, and it’ll be a good match again next year.
Funny what’s possible when a club and a player part ways on good terms.