PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals locked up one of their most integral bench bats on Friday afternoon, agreeing to a contract extension with Chad Tracy through the 2013 season. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Tracy, manager Davey Johnson’s primary left-handed bat off the bench, is 8-for-25 with a home run and 10 RBI as a pinch hitter alone this season.
“You had two parties that wanted to be together,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “He’s been a great teammate and he’s been great off the bench. We thought it was a good time to lock him up so he didn’t get to free agency and test the waters. We know we have a guy we like, and a guy that’s performed for us, so we felt it was a good time to lock him up for next year.”
“You’re on a first-place team over 30 games over .500, and they’re offering you an extension,” said Tracy, who was thrilled with the deal and the security for next year. “There’s really not a whole lot better than that.”
The extension, which the sides began discussing about a week ago, is the culmination of an amazing path back to the major leagues for Tracy. It was only a year ago that Tracy was contemplating if his career, his life in baseball, was over.
After an injury-plagued season that took him from the minor leagues to Japan and back, Tracy wasn’t sure if he’d get another opportunity.
But the Nationals called over the winter and offered the 32-year-old an opportunity to make the team out of spring training — which he did, aided by injuries to several of the Nationals’ projected 25-man roster, particularly a quad injury that landed Rick Ankiel on the disabled list.
Since then, though, he’s become one of the best pinch hitters in the major leagues and an irreplaceable part of the Nationals’ roster.
His 10 RBI as a pinch hitter ranks second in MLB, and that is in spite of him missing 55 games when he tore his right adductor muscle off the bone at the end of May.
“I think it’s a story of perseverance and love of the game,” Rizzo said. “His performance allowed for him to make the club, and he just kept exceeding expectations and played extremely well. He’s a real asset on the club.”
Tracy has become one of the leaders in the Nationals’ clubhouse and on the bench, which he dubbed the “Goon Squad” early in the season. He’s also become a favorite of Johnson’s.
When Tracy went down with the adductor injury in May, Johnson likened his loss to that of one of his primary starters, that’s how integral he felt he was to the team’s early success, and Johnson played a part in ensuring he would return.
Johnson was particularly fond of Laynce Nix on the 2011 squad and Nix, also a left-handed power bat, was one of the Nationals’ most productive players last year. But the Nationals did not lock him up during the season and Nix signed a two-year deal with the Phillies in the offseason. Johnson did not want that to happen again.
“Rather than get caught with our pants on fire,” Johnson said, “we did it now.”
“A lot of times when you get close to the end of the season and close to being a free agent, the allure of the free agent market sometimes override your loyalty to one club,” Rizzo said. “But I’ve known Chad since I drafted him with the Arizona Diamondbacks and we’re very close. He felt that he found a home here, he’s had a great season here for us, he’s great in the clubhouse and off the bench so we thought it was a good fit.”