The Nationals and infielder Michael Chavis are in agreement on a minor league deal, reports Andrew Golden of The Washington Post. Chavis will receive an invitation to major league Spring Training and will earn a $1MM salary if he cracks the roster, with a further $500K available in incentives. If he’s not in the majors by June 1, he can opt out and return to free agency.
Chavis, 27, was a first round pick of the Red Sox in 2014 and a highly-touted prospect while in the minors. Baseball America ranked him the #85 prospect in the league in 2018. He drew plaudits for his power stroke but also concerns for his extremely aggressive approach that led to few walks and many strikeouts.
Chavis made his major league debut in 2019 and those concerns have largely proved prescient. He’s gone down on strikes in 31.7% of his plate appearances thus far in 309 major league games while earning free passes just 5.4% of the time. Those numbers are both well south of the typical league averages, which were a 22.4% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate in 2022. The power has still been present, to be fair, as Chavis has 40 home runs to this point.
He was traded to the Pirates at the deadline in 2021 but didn’t do enough to stay in Pittsburgh’s plans. He hit .229/.265/.389 in 129 games in 2022 while striking out in 29.6% of his trips to the plate and walking in just 4.5% of them. That production was 20% below league average, as evidenced by his 80 wRC+. The Bucs designated him for assignment and outrighted him in September, with Chavis then reaching free agency at season’s end.
For the Nationals, they were the worst team in baseball in 2022 and are likely a few years away from returning to contention. Though Chavis has struggled in the big leagues thus far, he’s a former first round draft pick and top 100 prospect, a fairly sensible player for them to target and hope for a breakout. He’s also hit .279/.357/.547 in the minor leagues going back to the start of 2018, amounting to a wRC+ of 141. If he could bridge the gap between his minor league and major league results, even in a small way, he could turn into a valuable player.
Defensively, Chavis has played the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as the outfield corners in the majors, though he’s spent more time at first base than those other spots. The Nats are set to run out a fairly young and inexperienced infield in the upcoming season, with Joey Meneses at first, Luis Garcia at second, CJ Abrams at shortstop and Carter Kieboom a possibility at third. Jeimer Candelario was brought in for some insurance at the corners, though he’s an impending free agent and could be a midseason trade candidate.
The club seems to be taking a volume approach to adding infield depth, as they retained Ildemaro Vargas and claimed Jeter Downs off waivers. They also inked minor league deals with Matt Adams, Erick Mejia, Franklin Barreto and now Chavis. That group will seemingly be battling to get the call if any of the projected starters struggle or get hurt. If Chavis can emerge and crack the roster, he still has an option year remaining and could be sent to the minors during the season. He has between three of four years of MLB service time and could be retained for future seasons via arbitration if he can show enough improvement to work his way into the club’s plans.