NASHVILLE – While blockbuster rumors swirled, the Diamondbacks tidied up their bench and catching situations Wednesday, signing free agent veterans Eric Chavez and Wil Nieves to fill reserve roles at third base and catcher.
Chavez, who would figure to get most of his at-bats against right-handers while spelling Chris Johnson at third, signed a one-year, $3 million contract. He hit 16 home runs in 278 at-bats for the New York Yankees last season, getting pretty much regular time at the end of the season while Alex Rodriguez recovered from his hip injury. Chavez hit .298 against right-handers last season, with all 16 of his homers coming against them. He is a career .280 hitter against righties. The Yankees were said to be interested in re-signing Chavez, but at a lesser price.
Chavez, who turns 35 on Thursday, won six consecutive AL Gold Gloves with Oakland starting in 2001 before being slowed by a back injury that limited him to 154 games between 2007-10. It is a testament to his character and clubhouse presence that Oakland retained him through those seasons before losing him to the Yankees in free agency in 2011.
With Eric Hinske joining Chavez on the bench, the D-backs appear to have an extra reserve infielder, inasmuch as Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald also are under contract. McDonald, the most likely candidate to go, has one year and $1.5 million remaining on a two-year deal he signed last spring.
Nieves signed a one-year, $800,000 contract five days after the D-backs did not tender him a contract in order to stay out of the arbitration process. As it turned out, Nieves will earn about what he would have made in arbitration. Nieves, 35, hit .306 in 36 at-bats as Miguel Montero’s backup after joining the D-backs last Aug. 6, one day after Henry Blanco suffered a broken thumb on a play at the plate.
The D-backs put in a waiver claim on catcher Eli Whiteside, another reason they did not tender Nieves a contract at the Nov. 30 deadline, but he was awarded to Toronto. Whiteside, who has spent most of is career in San Francisco, was available to American League teams first in the waiver process because the Yankees had him for a week before letting him go.
The D-backs appear to be out of the mix for Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, who is being courted by Oakland and San Francisco. The D-backs met with Nakajima last week and explained that he probably would not get regular time, his stated preference. The A’s appear to be the leading contender there.