WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' bench was one of their strengths last season, and they have reached an agreement to bring back one of its most important members for 2017. Stephen Drew has agreed to a one-year deal to return to Washington, the team announced Thursday.
The deal is reportedly worth a base salary of $3.5 million and includes up to $1.2 million in incentives, according to MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman. The agreement gives the Nats much-needed depth in the infield and puts Drew back in a role where he flourished last season.
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Drew, who turns 34 in March, put together his most productive season offensively since 2013, primarily as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement late in games. In 70 games in '16, he hit .266/.339/.524 with eight home runs, until he was slowed vertigo-like symptoms that continued into October. He showed the ability to play all over the infield -- with 21 games at second base, 12 at third and 12 at shortstop -- and his three pinch-hit homers were tied with teammate Chris Heisey for the second most in the Majors.
Drew reportedly began this offseason trying to turn that strong 2016 into a starting job, but he lands in a place where he is comfortable and a key piece to a team with World Series aspirations.
Before Thursday, the Nationals only had one backup middle infielder on their 40-man roster in Wilmer Difo. Although they have high hopes for Difo, having him as their primary utility infielder could have been a heavy burden. Drew provides security for both Nats middle infielders, considering second baseman Daniel Murphy has not played 150 games in a season since 2013, and shortstop Trea Turner is entering his first full season in the Majors at that position.
Drew becomes the second free agent Washington has signed this offseason, along with Heisey, another key player for the Nats' bench. Clint Robinson and Jose Lobaton are set to join Heisey and Drew, with the final member of the bench likely coming down to a battle between Michael Taylor and Brian Goodwin for the fourth outfielder spot.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.