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The Nationals have signed speedster Willy Taveras to a minor-league contract and will give him a chance to win a spot as the fourth or fifth outfielder on the Opening Day roster, a club source confirmed.
Taveras, 28, has long been considered one of baseball's fastest players -- he led the NL with 68 stolen bases in 2008 -- but he's struggled in recent years to get on base enough to take advantage of his speed. In 102 games with the Reds last year, he reached base at a pathetic .275 clip. Combine that with a .285 slugging percentage, and Taveras was one of the least productive offensive players in baseball in 2009.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Cincinnati gave up on him and shipped him to the A's two weeks ago in a deal that brought Aaron Miles to the Reds. Oakland immediately designated Taveras for assignment, and after he cleared waivers, gave him his outright release. That put the A's on the hook for his $4 million salary in 2010 and left him available to sign with any other big-league club for a minimum deal.
The Astros also showed in interest in Taveras, who spent his first three major-league seasons in Houston, but the Nats emerged with the player. Though Taveras will still make his guaranteed $4 million salary this year, Washington will only be responsible for a fraction of that amount if he makes the big-league roster, with Oakland paying the majority.
What are Taveras' chances of making the Nats' roster? Well, the club currently has no established fourth outfielder, so he'll be in the mix along with Chris Duncan, Justin Maxwell and Roger Bernadina. Willie Harris will obviously make the team off the bench and will get some playing time in the outfield, but he's viewed as more of a super-utility guy who can bounce from position to position.