After insisting all winter that he was happy with the options at second base both on the 40-man roster and in the organization as a whole, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo did say at the Winter Meetings that he would be open to the possibility of adding an infielder to the mix if he could find the right fit on either the free agent or trade market.
While they had Howie Kendrick and Wilmer Difo on the big league roster and prospects like Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia in the system, Rizzo said they were open to an upgrade if there was one available.
“If there was a definite everyday second baseman that we liked that we thought was an upgrade, we would certainly consider that,” Rizzo explained in early December.
On January 13th, the Nationals signed 31-year-old free agent infielder Brian Dozier to a 1-year/$9M deal, bringing the former Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers’ second baseman to D.C.
Dozier, who’ll turn 32 in May, played for both the Twins and Dodgers in 2018, putting up a combined .215/.305/.391 line, 30 doubles, and 21 home runs in 151 games and 632 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.8 fWAR (down from 6.2 and 5.0 fWAR in 2016-17, respectively).
In a conference all with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, Dozier said he thought the nation’s capital was a good fit for him and his wife, and the Nationals seemed like the right team for 2019, even though he had more years and dollars in other offers.
“Basically,” Dozier explained, “what it came down to was where my wife and I wanted to be, with numerous offers and more years and dollars and that kind of stuff, you find that this fit seemed like the best fit for my wife and I and we couldn’t be any happier.”
The opportunity to sign with an organization that is making big moves this winter, signing Kurt Suzuki, Trevor Rosenthal, and Patrick Corbin, and acquiring Kyle Barraclough and Yan Gomes, with an eye on returning to the postseason after a disappointing 2018 campaign, ended up being another factor in the decision Dozier made.
“The chance to play for a winning ballclub that’s done what they’ve done,” Dozier explained, “especially over the last handful of seasons, and see them obviously not make the playoffs, and then responding and still being active in the free agent market and trying to show fans that they’re all in and ready to win this year and stuff.
“That fuels you a little bit, because I’ve been on some winning ballclubs and some really bad ballclubs, and every time you win, and every time you have everybody from the front office down expecting to win and hoping to win and things like that, it fuels you a lot and you feed off that and it brings out the best in yourself and that’s exactly how it is and it helped make my decision a lot easier I guess.”
He’s also fueled, he said, by a desire to prove some people wrong after struggling through a down year in which an early-season knee injury hurt his offensive production.
In 2017 in Minnesota, he put up a .271/.359/.498 line with 30 doubles and 34 home runs in a 5.0 fWAR campaign for the Twins, which followed a 6.2 fWAR season in 2016, in which he hit 35 doubles and 42 homers.
“I think you kind of hit the nail on the head to be honest with you,” Dozier told a reporter who asked if the infielder was determined to show his 2018 season was a fluke.
“Just because going into this year, personally, you kind of have a chip on your shoulder, just because you want to make sure you prove people wrong, per se. I feel like I’ve done that throughout my career, I had to do that, which is perfectly fine with me, because I enjoy that.”
“But at the same time, getting on a winning ballclub for one year was also a priority of mine.”
The injury, a bone bruise he suffered in an April series with the New York Yankees, lingered for the entire season, he said.
“It came on a couple plays one week in New York, just an impactful play. You have a bruise inside your knee and I played on it, no excuses by any means, but I think over the course of a long season, I guess offensively I kind of developed some bad habits, and it kind of led to some of the results that I didn’t want.”
“With all that being said,” Dozier added, “... it was a learning year, I guess, so to speak, and learned how to fight through things and it kind of made me a better player and person and I’m up for the challenge this year.”
Those bad habits he developed?
“I don’t want to get too far into it,” Dozier said, “... but one of the biggest things — I guess I create a lot of power and my swing works when I’m really driving into my front side, when my front side is really strong and driving into it, and I felt like at times I couldn’t really do that like I wanted to, therefore you start landing on your heel and landing with your front side opened up I guess to kind of make it give a little bit, and this is just the mechanical stuff, it might be going above and beyond kind of what your question is, but that’s kind of what I felt a lot last year, but at the same time you go through injuries each and every year, you go through stuff, you find ways around it, and I’ve always done that through my career, this one just kind of lingered a little bit longer, but it’s all good now, 100%.”