Candelario relishes opportunity to reunite with Martinez

Jeimer Candelario Tigers swing white

The baseball world is like a circle. Sooner or later, you come back around to work with someone you know from your past.

The Nationals have taken this approach while filling roster holes: Bringing back bounce back candidates who used to play on the team or have a connection to someone already on the staff from a past gig.

Jeimer Candelario is the latest example, reuniting with manager Davey Martinez from their time with the Cubs after the third baseman signed a one-year, $5 million contract three weeks ago. Candelario spent parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Cubs while Martinez served as then-manager Joe Maddon’s bench coach.

Candelario relishes the opportunity to reunite with Martinez, now the head man in Washington who had a big impact on the 22-year-old infielder’s development on the North Side of Chicago.

“It means a lot, it means a lot, because in 2016, we were champs,” Candelario said last week during an introductory Zoom session with Nationals reporters. “I was not on the team, but I was in the (organization). And I came up that year. It was a special, special team. Really good coaching staff and he was part of it. He was a really good part of that team.”

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Thanks to reliable sources, Williams excited to join young Nats

Trevor Williams Mets throw side white

It’s a bit unusual for a seven-year veteran to depart a playoff team and sign a multi-year deal with a rebuilding organization.

But that’s exactly what Trevor Williams did when he agreed to a two-year, $13 million deal with the Nationals over the weekend after spending the last two seasons with the Mets.

Although he was left off the Mets roster for the Wild Card Series against the Padres, the 30-year-old got his first taste of a pennant race this year and was expected to be included on the Division Series roster had New York advanced.

Now he’s coming to D.C., where the Nats are coming off their third straight last-place finish in the National League East. But the right-hander understands the situation and is comfortable committing to the Nats for two years.

With such a young team in a rebuilding phase, Williams doesn’t know too many current Nationals. He had only just met manager Davey Martinez over the phone earlier this week. But he is familiar with Josh Bell, who was Williams’ teammate for five years in Pittsburgh and spent the last 1 ½ seasons in Washington, and Craig Stammen, the former Nationals draft pick who spent the first seven years of his big league career in D.C. and knows Williams from playing for his hometown Padres over the last six years.

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More on Rule 5 draft pick Thad Ward


The Rule 5 draft is a resource hardly utilized by the Nationals in the past. In fact, with the No. 1 overall pick Wednesday, they made their first selection in 12 years.

But for a rebuilding team with such a high selection at such a low cost, it made too much sense for the Nats not to take a flier on a Rule 5 player and give him a shot at staying on the roster throughout the upcoming season.

So with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals selected right-hander Thad Ward from the Red Sox.

If you don’t know the drill by now – and no one would blame you because the Rule 5 draft is complicated and Nats fans haven’t had to worry about it in over a decade – the Nationals pay $100,000 to the Red Sox to acquire Ward and then have to keep him on the major league roster for the entire 2023 season. He has to spend at least 90 days on the active roster, not including the injured list, or offer him back to the Red Sox for $50,000.

It’s a classic low-cost, high-reward situation.

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Winter Meetings Day 3: Rule 5 draft, Judge returns to Yankees (Nats select Ward)


It’s hard to believe, but we’re already at the last full day of the Winter Meetings. The Rule 5 draft is the last event of the week and marks the end of baseball’s biggest offseason gathering.

In years past, the Rule 5 draft has been held on the Thursday morning of the Winter Meetings. But they bumped it up to Wednesday afternoon this year, meaning there probably won’t be a whole lot of commotion tomorrow morning before everyone leaves for the airport.

The Nationals are expected to make their first pick in the Rule 5 draft in 12 years with the No. 1 overall pick later today. Thanks to a decade of success, they didn’t feel the need to use a spot on their active roster on a fringe major league player.

Mark Zuckerman had a preview of the Rule 5 draft this morning and check back for the selection later today.

Elsewhere in the baseball world, the big news earlier this morning was Aaron Judge agreeing to return to the Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million deal, multiple outlets confirmed.

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For Nats, winning at major league level is still important


Offseasons are tough for clubs and fans alike during a rebuild like the one the Nationals are in right now. It’s the kind they haven’t endured in well over a decade.

After the Nats decided to embark on this rebuild at the 2021 trade deadline, the following offseason was thrown off by last winter’s lockout. Now in their first regular offseason in a rebuild, the team isn’t expected to be handing out some of the top free agent contracts or acquiring the best players available for trade this winter.

But the Nationals themselves are expecting to be better next season at the major league level on the heels of one of the worst campaigns in franchise history.

At 55-107 this year, the Nationals finished with their worst record since coming to D.C. in 2005, and the worst record in Nationals/Expos franchise history since 1976 (also 55-107). All along, general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez have stressed the importance of acquiring and developing young players for the future.

But on the first day of the Winter Meetings, they also emphasized the desire to perform better in the majors.

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Winter Meetings Day 2: Nats have shot at No. 1 pick in Draft (lottery update)


These Winter Meetings got off to a fast start yesterday with Trea Turner agreeing to an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies and Justin Verlander agreeing to a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets.

The Nationals will definitely feel the ramifications of two division rivals signing two of the biggest free agents on the market. And although general manager Mike Rizzo isn’t expected to dish out large contracts to other top free agents like Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Rodón and Dansby Swanson, that doesn’t mean this week will be uneventful for the Nats.

Today is the first of two major events for the Nationals this week in San Diego, with the first-ever MLB Draft lottery taking place at 8:30 p.m. ET.

After a 55-107 record this year, the Nats are one of three teams with the highest odds to land the No. 1 overall pick. Along with the Athletics (60-102) and Pirates (62-100), the Nationals have a 16.5 percent chance at the top selection in next year’s draft.

The first six spots in the draft will be determined by the lottery. All 18 non-playoff teams are eligible for the lottery, with declining percentages in reverse order of their records, down to a 0.23 percent chance at scoring the top pick. After that, picks 7-18 will be determined in reverse order of standings. So the lowest the Nats can pick is No. 7 overall, which, at 19 percent, they have a better chance of getting than the No. 1 pick.

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Winter Meetings Day 1: Turner to Phils, Verlander to Mets


For the first time since 2019 in San Diego, the baseball Winter Meetings are full-go in person. And the biggest event of the offseason just so happens to be back in San Diego at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

It’s barely the afternoon on the West Coast and there has already been major news breaking on the free agent market. Two of the top available free agents this winter have reportedly agreed to terms on new deals. And both are with National League East teams outside of D.C.

The biggest contract handed out so far this offseason is sure to be heartbreaking for Nats fans to see. Trea Turner has reportedly agreed to an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies. The deal also reportedly includes a full no-trade clause, which will keep the shortstop in Philadelphia through the 2033 season.

ESPN was the first to report the Turner deal.

Turner, who played for the Nationals from 2015 until he was traded with Max Scherzer to the Dodgers at the 2021 deadline, reunites with Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and hitting coach Kevin Long as former Nats in Philly.

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After full big league season, Thomas comfortable in versatility

Lane Thomas swing white

The Winter Meetings are officially underway at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. On the first day, both Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez will speak to the media. Plenty of content is on the way.

They will be asked about the ownership situation, the current state of the roster, the rest of the offseason and players returning next year.

What about the players themselves? It would be nice to hear from some of them this offseason.

Lane Thomas, a key returning player who will be included in the Opening Day starting lineup in the outfield, was gracious enough to join the first edition of the “Nationals Hot Stove Show” on Friday to update his offseason and look ahead to the 2023 campaign.

“I kind of get back home and hang out with family and enjoy some Tennessee football for a few weeks,” Thomas said on MASN about his offseason. “And then it's kind of back to it. Just start moving around again. And we've got a good group down at the university that, you know, some young guys that just got drafted and even some guys like Mike Minor and some other guys who've been around for a while. So it's a good group. And it's fun to be back with these guys getting ready and getting prepared for another year.”

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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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