LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers, still hoping to acquire a star player on the trade market, made another low-risk, high-upside addition on Tuesday, agreeing to terms on an incentive-laden deal with Jimmy Nelson, sources confirmed to ESPN.
Nelson, a 28-year-old right-hander who had spent his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers, signed a one-year, $1.25 million contract that includes a $2 million club option for 2021, which could become a more lucrative mutual option if he reaches certain thresholds. Nelson’s deal, first reported on by the L.A. Times, could surpass $13 million if he hits all of his incentives.
Nelson broke out as a starting pitcher in 2017, going 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA and finishing ninth in National League Cy Young Award voting. But he underwent shoulder surgery in September and missed the entirety of the 2018 season. In 2019, he battled elbow soreness, got demoted to Triple-A and compiled only 22 innings in the major leagues. The Brewers decided not to tender him a contract in December, making Nelson a free agent with five years of major league service time.
If healthy, the Dodgers believe Nelson might be able to tap back into some of the dominance he displayed a couple of years ago. They will give him an opportunity to compete for a spot in their starting rotation — along with young arms such as Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Julio Urias — but believe he can also be a weapon out of the bullpen. Nelson joins Blake Treinen, a previously dominant reliever for the Oakland Athletics, as the Dodgers’ only substantive additions thus far.
Nelson agreed to a $750,000 base salary in 2020, but can make an additional $3.5 million in incentives, an industry source said. His $2 million club option for 2021 comes with a $500,000 buyout and can turn into a $5 million mutual option if he reaches 60 innings or 40 appearances in 2020. Other innings incentives could push the 2021 option up to $9 million.
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, the 30-year-old relies on a four-pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider and curveball. Nelson’s average fastball dropped from about 95 mph in 2017 to 93 mph in 2019.