Nationals sign Rick Ankiel to minor league contract

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According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the Washington Nationals have agreed to terms with outfielder Rick Ankiel on a minor league deal that includes an invitation to spring training.

Ankiel was productive for the Nationals in 2011, and he possesses arguably the best outfield arm in the game. Bringing back the left-handed former pitcher appeared to be less about want and more about if he would be able to properly fill a role in the Nationals roster.

Given that they appear to be heading to spring training without acquiring the long-term answer in center field that has long been on general manager Mike Riz-zo’s wish list, Ankiel makes sense. Terms of the deal weren’t available, but Ankiel’s comfort in Washington likely played into his decision to accept a minor league contract.

The outfield competition likely will be the second-most intriguing battle in camp, behind the rotation. Bryce Harper will make his case to head north with the team while Roger Bernadina, Mike Cameron and now Ankiel battle it out for a center field spot if Harper is sent to the minor leagues. The move gives the Nationals insurance in center if they do decide to leave Harper behind at the outset.

It will be interesting to watch the way the competition shakes out in spring training. Earlier this offseason, sources said there was a feeling within the organization that Ankiel, who hit .239 with nine home runs in 2011, might not be able to maintain the offensive productivity he showed in spurts last season if he’s serving primarily as a bat off the bench. Still, his phenomenal defense in center field makes him valuable. Ankiel made $1.5 million on a major league deal with the Nationals last year.

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