Looks like you can cross another item off the Nationals’ Hot Stove checklist: a defensively gifted, veteran infielder.
The Nats have signed Eric Bruntlett (plus first baseman Josh Whitesell) to minor league deals and will invite both players to spring training.
Bruntlett is the interesting pickup here, because he fills a specific, stated need. Mike Rizzo has been saying since October he wanted to acquire a good defensive middle infielder, someone who could play second base or shortstop and serve as some insurance in case Ian Desmond isn’t ready yet or Cristian Guzman can’t handle the switch to second base.
The signing of the 31-year-old Bruntlett (a career .231 hitter in parts of seven seasons with the Astros and Phillies) is hardly going to get anyone in D.C. excited, but he’s probably what this team needs. He’s actually played every position in the field other than catcher and pitcher, and done a decent job playing all of them. (His defensive metrics, like Ultimate Zone Rating, are actually better in the outfield than the infield.) Bruntlett also made history this year in becoming only the second player to ever end a ballgame with an unassisted triple play. Watch the video here.
Whitesell, meanwhile, is a familiar name. He originally came up as a Nationals farmhand, only to get claimed off waivers by the Diamondbacks a couple years ago. He appeared in 53 big league games with Arizona the last two seasons and hit a combined .200 with two homers and 15 RBI. Does the 27-year-old have a chance to make the Opening Day roster? It would seem unlikely, but stranger things have happened.