Carter Kieboom conundrum is now more complicated

kieboom dugout fives gray

The first additions the Nationals made to the major league roster this offseason seem to be solid pickups. On Tuesday, they signed veteran third baseman Jeimer Candelario to a one-year, $5 million deal and added outfielder Stone Garrett on a league-minimum major league contract.

With his price tag and veteran experience, Candelario presumably will be the starting third baseman heading into spring training, while Garrett will compete for a spot on the roster as a depth piece.

Candelario figured to be a depth piece, as a switch-hitter who can play both third and first base, when the deal was first reported. But the Nats, in their current state, wouldn’t commit $5 million, plus another $1 million in incentives, to a potential backup in 2023.

That means Ildemaro Vargas becomes the versatile backup infielder, who can play all over the infield and maybe even the corner outfield spots in an emergency. Jake Alu, who was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from next week’s Rule 5 draft, will try to make the team out of spring training, but will likely start next season trying to build on his .323/.372/.553 slash line from this year at Triple-A Rochester.

So where does that leave Carter Kieboom?

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Candelario adds more versatility to Nats roster

Jeimer Candelario Tigers swing white

This offseason is already a nice change of pace from the previous two winters. It’s not even December yet and the hot stove is already heating up.

The Nationals made their first major league signings yesterday, announcing a one-year deal with veteran third baseman Jeimer Candelario and a major league deal with outfielder Stone Garrett. Both will compete for starting spots come spring training.

The Tigers non-tendered the 29-year-old, switch-hitting Candelario at the deadline a few weeks ago after a disappointing 2022 season in which he hit only .217 with a .633 OPS and -0.1 WAR by FanGraphs' reckoning.

But Candelario has a longer track record of success, particularly in the 2018, 2020 and 2021 seasons. He tied for the major league lead with 42 doubles and produced 3.9 WAR two seasons ago and hit a career-high 19 home runs to go along with 2.2 WAR in 2018, his first full season in Detroit.

Assuming he reverts back to a former version of himself, Candelario should be a solid pickup for this rebuilding Nats team. He brings seven years of major league experience and will reportedly make a $5 million base salary in 2023, with another $1 million in incentives. He was projected to make $7 million in arbitration before being non-tendered, per MLB Trade Rumors, so he’s coming at a low cost.

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Bullpen has high upside at low cost

Erasmo Ramirez throws gray

For the first time in a long time, the bullpen was the Nationals’ biggest strength this season.

After so many years (in which they did win, I might add) of trusting unproven closers and acquiring top relief pitchers through trade deadline deals, general manager Mike Rizzo constructed a bullpen mostly through waiver claims and minor league deals that proved to be more than adequate for manager Davey Martinez.

Nine of the 11 relievers with at least 23 appearances out of the ‘pen produced a FanGraphs WAR of 0.1 or better. Only Andres Machado (51 appearances, -0.1 fWAR) and Steve Cishek (69 appearances, -0.3 fWAR) were left out of the bullpen’s top 10 in fWAR, which includes Sean Doolittle’s 0.3 in just six appearances.

Looking even further, they produced some impressive numbers.

Kyle Finnegan posted a 3.51 ERA and 1.140 WHIP with 11 saves in 66 ⅔ innings over 66 games. Carl Edwards Jr. had a 2.76 ERA and 1.226 WHIP in 62 innings over 57 games. Erasmo Ramirez recorded a 2.92 ERA and 1.077 WHIP in 80 ⅓ innings over 58 relief appearances en route to being named Nationals Pitcher of the Year. And Tanner Rainey had a 3.30 ERA, 1.300 WHIP and 12 saves before his season was cut short due to injury.

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Fedde and Romero latest examples of first-round failures

romero roughed up blue

The Nationals made a flurry of roster moves last week to begin the offseason, thanks to two deadlines. Earlier in the week, they had to remove players from the 40-man roster and add eligible prospects they wanted to protect from the Rule 5 draft. Then a week ago today, they needed to tender or non-tender contracts to their 10 arbitration-eligible players.

In all, they removed seven players from the 40-man roster (Tres Barrera, Francisco Pérez, Seth Romero, Yadiel Hernandez, Jackson Tetreault, Evan Lee and Tommy Romero) and added six Rule 5-eligible prospects (Jake Alu, Jeremy De La Rosa, Jackson Rutledge, Jake Irvin, Matt Cronin and Jose Ferrer). They then agreed to terms with Ildemaro Vargas on his 2023 salary, tendered seven contracts to arbitration-eligible players (Lane Thomas, Victor Robles, Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Hunter Harvey, Tanner Rainey and Victor Arano) and non-tendered Erick Fedde and Luke Voit.

A lot of movement to keep track of in one week of the offseason.

Two of those moves, however, are the latest examples of an underlying issue the Nats have had in roster construction over the last decade. Fedde and Seth Romero are the newest names added to a growing list of failed first-round draft picks made under Mike Rizzo’s tenure as general manager.

Fedde was non-tendered in his second year of arbitration eligibility after parts of six seasons with the Nationals. He was the 18th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (just days after having Tommy John surgery) with expectations of being a part of the big league rotation for years to come.

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Levels of interest in Nats' free agents

Erasmo Ramirez throws gray

The first full week of the official offseason is complete, and with that, the deadline for teams to negotiate with their respective free agents has passed.

Thursday was the last day the Nationals had exclusive rights to re-sign any of their free agents before they became available to speak with other teams. Of their eight free agents, the Nats had already made decisions on two of them.

On Sunday, the day after the conclusion of the World Series, the Nats announced they had agreed to terms with Sean Doolittle on a minor league deal that includes an invitation to major league spring training. A couple of hours later, the team also announced they declined the $16 million mutual option for 2023 on Nelson Cruz’s contract, instead buying out the 42-year-old designated hitter for $3 million.

Both moves made sense.

Doolittle has a long history with the team, showed flashes of returning to his previous form in limited action this year (5 ⅓ scoreless innings over six games) and has been recovering from his internal brace procedure. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach in mid-February.

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Love and baseball

Nats Park fans rally towels

I’m going to steer away from the traditional baseball post and instead write a more sappy, personal one. Don’t worry, it still involves baseball.

I’m getting married today.

Those are crazy words to write, never mind say out loud.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m very excited to get married. She’s the woman I fell in love with and will treasure forever. I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s a perfect match for me. My soulmate. My dream girl.

It’s just crazy that today is the day. After months of planning, a full baseball season and countless times counting down the days, it’s finally here.

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Millas and Ribalta representing Nats at AFL Fall Stars Game

Arizona Fall League generic stadium

As the World Series shifts back to Houston to wrap up the 2022 major league season, the Arizona Fall League enters the last week of its short campaign.

The final week of the AFL kicks off this weekend with the 16th annual Fall Stars Game, and two Nationals prospects were chosen to the National League roster: catcher Drew Millas and right-hander Orlando Ribalta.

Millas, the 24-year-old acquired by the Nationals at the 2021 trade deadline as part of a three-prospect package from the Athletics in exchange for Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison, has had an impressive month in Arizona. He leads the Peoria Javelinas with a .314 average, .529 slugging percentage, .862 OPS and five doubles. He has also hit two homers with 13 RBIs and a .333 on-base percentage in 13 games.

The No. 30 prospect in the Nats system, per MLB Pipeline, rose through the minor league ranks this summer. Starting the season with Single-A Fredericksburg, he earned two promotions to Double-A Harrisburg after two stops at High-A Wilmington.

Between the three affiliates, Millas slashed .225/.340/.350 with a .690 OPS, 14 doubles, two triples, six homers, 36 RBIs, eight stolen bases and 51 walks.

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How to evaluate Martinez in 2023

Davey Martinez dugout red

Today is a continuation of evaluating Nationals front office and coaching personnel.

Tuesday was general manager and president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo. Today is manager Davey Martinez.

The easiest way to evaluate a manager’s performance is by the team’s record. In 2022, the Nats posted the worst record in the major leagues and the worst record in club history at 55-107.

The team understood what they were getting themselves into when they started this rebuilding process at the 2021 trade deadline. Expectations were not high for this season.

Were they expecting to be this bad? Probably not. But coming into the year, they probably were not also expecting to trade 24-year-old superstar Juan Soto and Josh Bell in perhaps the biggest deal in the sport’s history.

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Robles misses out on first Gold Glove Award

robles leaps @ CIN blue

When Rawlings announced the finalists for the annual Gold Glove Awards last week, a lot was made about Juan Soto’s inclusion in right field. His advanced metrics showed he was actually one of the worst defensive right fields in all of baseball this year.

Not a lot of attention was given to Victor Robles, however, since his inclusion in center field made more sense. Despite more struggles at the plate this year, the 25-year-old outfielder returned to a high level of defense in center.

But Robles was denied his first Gold Glove in his second time as a finalist for center field in the National League, losing to the Padres’ Trent Grisham last night.

Let’s compare the center fielders.

Robles’ 12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) led all NL center fielders and ranked behind only the Royals’ Michael A. Taylor and the Guardians’ Myles Straw among all major league center fielders. He also had a 4.8 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), 1.8 arm rating, five outs above average, six runs above average and a 4.1 defensive rating, per FanGraphs. Robles recorded an NL-high seven outfield assists, while also having an NL-high six errors. In 971 ⅔ innings in center field, Robles had 340 putouts with a .983 fielding percentage.

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How to evaluate Rizzo in 2023

Mike Rizzo

The first couple of weeks of the offseason are usually for player evaluations from the season. (If you haven’t already, be sure to check out Mark Zuckerman’s player reviews from the past month.)

Evaluating coaches and front office personnel is harder to do. There are fewer numerical values we can attribute directly to the general manager and manager to determine how much success they had.

After the first full season of the Nationals’ rebuild, it might not be worth the time and effort evaluating Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez as they try to revamp the organization from the ground up. Also, this past season wasn’t as important in what they accomplished as next season will be, especially considering they finished with the worst record in the majors.

Both Rizzo and Martinez had the options in their respective contracts selected for next year. Rizzo will return for his 14th season as the Nats GM, 10th as president of baseball operations. Martinez will return for his sixth season as the manager, the longest tenured skipper in Nats history (not including Frank Robinson’s time in Montreal).

Their futures with the organization beyond 2023 is to be determined. The questions surrounding the Nationals’ ownership situation, of course, will have a major impact on those decisions.

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Confusion about midseason trades and award season

Silver Slugger Awards generic

It’s award season in Major League Baseball as the World Series gets underway tonight. Some outlets and awards have announced their winners and finalists ahead of the Baseball Writers' Association of America announcing the finalists for their awards after the Fall Classic.

Last week, Rawlings announced the three finalists at each position in both leagues for the Gold Glove Awards. Yesterday, Louisville Slugger announced the finalists for the Silver Slugger Awards.

As it pertains to the Nationals, Victor Robles and Juan Soto are Gold Glove finalists, and Luke Voit, Josh Bell and Soto are Silver Slugger finalists. But for the Gold Gloves, Soto represents both the Nats and Padres, whereas for the Silver Sluggers, Voit represents just the Nats, and Bell and Soto represent just the Padres.

Confusing, right?

Also pertaining to the Nationals this year – and perhaps the next couple of years – is how these awards are credited to players who have been traded during the season, like Soto, Bell and Voit.

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Nats need to add more power next year

Nelson Cruz disappointed gray

It’s no surprise a team that traded its top two power bats at the deadline finished the season as one of the worst power-hitting squads in the major leagues.

When the Nationals traded Juan Soto and Josh Bell to the Padres for six players, including five prospects, they were giving up the majority of the power produced by their lineup.

They did get Luke Voit in return, the lone veteran in the trade package coming back to Washington, to help supplant some of that power and fill Bell’s position at first base. But his nine home runs and 21 RBIs with the Nats were not enough to lift his new club from the bottom of the power barrel.

But he couldn’t have been expected to do it all by himself. Nor could he have been expected to do it when coupled with CJ Abrams, the speedy contact hitter who didn’t homer and posted a .327 slugging percentage in 159 at-bats for the Nationals.

A lack of power was already an issue for the Nats before Voit and Abrams arrived in Washington, even when they had Soto and Bell. And in this day and age of baseball when we’ve seen more homers hit than ever before (not to mention when Nats pitchers gave up the most home runs in the big leagues), that’s not a great recipe for success.

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With new stadium naming partner in Rochester, will Nationals Park ever change?

Nationals Park exterior

Triple-A Rochester announced yesterday a new naming rights partner for their home stadium. Innovative Solutions, the leading provider of information technology services for growing businesses on Amazon Web Services, and Monroe County agreed to rename Frontier Field, “Innovative Field.”

The renaming coincides with the start of Rochester-based company’s 34th year in business in the Red Wings’ area.

The Red Wings have called Frontier Field, now Innovative Field, home since 1997, one of only six franchises in the history of North American pro sports to have been playing in the same city and league continuously since the 19th century.

With new naming rights in Rochester, it makes one wonder: Will Nationals Park ever bring in a naming rights partner?

Nationals Park has been named as such since it opened on South Capitol Street in 2008.

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Some skippers can't stay away from the game

Davey Martinez dugout red

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Baseball lifers, obviously, have a hard time leaving the game for good. Even when they step away, sometimes seemingly for the last time, they find their way back.

On Friday, the Rangers announced the hiring of Bruce Bochy as the franchise’s 20th full-time manager before officially introducing him on Monday. Next year will be the future Hall of Famer’s 26th season as a major league skipper after spending 12 years in San Diego and 13 years in San Francisco, where he won three World Series championships with the Giants.

Bochy has been away from a major league dugout since 2019, when he managed the Giants to a 77-85 record in his final season. Three years later, he’s back in the Rangers dugout.

Over recent years, the trend in managerial hires has been picking younger, analytical-thinking coaches from the staffs of successful veteran managers. See Davey Martinez here in Washington. See Brandon Hyde in Baltimore. See Alex Cora in Boston.

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How Juan Soto is a Gold Glove Award finalist


The finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced Thursday afternoon, and wouldn’t you know it, the Nationals had two representatives.

Well, 1 ½, you could say.

Victor Robles and Juan Soto (who is also representing the Padres) were named finalists in the National League in center field and right field, respectively. It is the second time they have been named finalists, with the former teammates both earning the honor in 2019 (Soto in left field).

Robles’ nomination makes sense. His 12 Defensive Runs Saved led all NL center fielders and he recorded an NL-high seven outfield assists. As discussed on Wednesday, he was by far the best defensive player on a Nats team that struggled in the field.

Soto, on the other hand, raises some eyebrows.

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Nats fans familiar with Harper's postseason heroics

Bryce Harper swing Nats white 2017 NLDS

Nationals fans are seeing something very familiar this October. It just might sting because it’s happening with a National League East rival.

Bryce Harper is once again putting on a show during the postseason. Only this time, he’s doing it with the Phillies in his first trip to the postseason with his new team since signing a then-record 13-year, $330 million deal before the 2019 season.

Finally healthy and with a strong supporting cast around him, Harper helped the Phillies reach their first postseason since 2011. He hit a go-ahead solo home run in Game 2 of the National League Wild Card Series against the Cardinals to seal a sweep over St. Louis and the first playoff series win of his career. He went 8-for-16 in the National League Division Series against the defending world champion Braves, including a home run apiece in Games 3 and 4 at Citizens Bank Park, to help the Phillies advance in four games to their first National League Championship Series since 2010.

Entering Tuesday at the start of NLCS and before the conclusion of the Guardians-Yankees American League Division Series, Harper led this postseason (among players who have played in at least four games) with a 1.437 OPS, .957 slugging percentage, .435 average, 10 hits, six extra-base hits and 22 total bases. He was also tied for first with three doubles and three home runs, second with six RBIs, tied for third with six runs scored, and fourth with a .480 on-base percentage.

Over the first two games in the NLCS against the Padres, he has gone 3-for-8 with a go-ahead home run in Game 1 and a multi-hit game with a double in Game 2. He has also scored a run in each game.

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How can Nats improve defensively in 2023?

CJ Abrams Luis Garcia gray celebrate

Davey Martinez knew what he was getting into during the 2022 season, his fifth as manager of the Nationals. In the first full year of the Nats’ rebuild, he wouldn’t have the most talented roster in the major leagues and they wouldn’t win a lot of games. But he at least expected his players to give their best efforts and make fundamental plays every night.

The effort was always there. The same cannot be said about the fundamentals.

It was a roster filled with inexperienced players and journeyman veterans during a season in which development was the focus. Still, it seemed like the Nationals too often had difficulty with even the most basic plays, especially on defense and on the basepaths. Common signs of a rebuilding team.

The Nationals finished the season with a -39 defensive rating and -47 defensive runs saved as a team, both second-worst in the majors per FanGraphs. However, they did fare slightly better in ultimate zone rating, another widely used defensive metric, at -8.8, which ranked 21st in the majors.

So how can the Nats improve defensively in 2023? Aside from the obvious solutions of practicing in spring training, making routine plays, acquiring better defenders to fill out the roster and perhaps even pitching better, they could benefit simply by players playing in their proper positions for the majority of the season.

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Looking back on a disappointing yet memorable Nats season


While speaking to reporters in New York a few days ago to wrap up the 2022 regular season, general manager Mike Rizzo said this year was a “disappointment” for the Nationals.

That should be a given after the Nats finished with the worst record in the major leagues at 55-107, setting a new club record for the most losses in a single season.

When we look back on the 2022 Nationals season, we probably won’t do so fondly. There was a lot of bad. But there was also some good. Put them both together and you get a memorable season for better or worse.

Looking at some of the final results, it is mostly bad. As bad as we’ve ever seen in Washington baseball.

At no point during the regular season did the Nationals reach the .500 mark. Their longest winning streak was only three games, which they accomplished five times. Their longest losing streak was nine games from July 7-16. They never swept a series and were swept 12 times. They were shut out 12 times and only shut out their opponents four times. They were walked off five times and only walked off twice, both not coming until September. And they by far had the worst run differential in the majors at -252.

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Is the expanded playoff bracket more beneficial for lower seeds?


Major League Baseball’s expanded postseason bracket takes center stage for the first time this October. Even without the Nationals involved for the third straight season, it should be an interesting month of playoff baseball.

Instead of two teams playing in each of the Wild Card Games that were used in nine of the last 10 seasons (the shortened 2020 season had eight teams each from the National and American leagues make the playoffs), there are now three wild card teams in each league to complete in the 12-team field.

The 12 teams are placed in a bracket similar to the National Football League’s old 12-team playoff field, with the top two seeds in each league receiving a first-round bye while the Wild Card Series are played. The difference being there is no reseeding after the first round.

Without reseeding in the Division Series, the matchups in the first round are the No. 3 seed hosting the No. 6 seed (winner to play the No. 2 seed) and the No. 4 seed hosting the No. 5 seed (winner to play the No. 1 seed). This is so the No. 3 seed, the third division winner, cannot match up with the No. 1 seed, the league’s best record, in the second round.

But is this format more beneficial for the lower seeds?

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Who will Nats fans root for this October?

juan soto josh padres

It’s always tough for a fan base to see their favorite team miss out on the postseason.

For Nationals fans, this is the third straight year without playoff baseball in the District since the team won its first World Series championship back in 2019.

With that being the case, an important question must be asked: Who will Nats fans root for this October?

It’s not a simple question to answer if you’re going to continue being a baseball fan over the next month. Do you root for whole teams or just individual players? Do you root for league or divisional pride, or for anything but that?

The 2022 Major League Baseball postseason is set. In the first year of the new expanded format, six teams each from the American League and National League qualified (three division winners and three wild cards), with the top two seeds earning a first-round bye as the Wild Card Series starts this weekend.

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