Nats add veteran reliever Colomé on minor league deal

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The Nationals added another experienced reliever this afternoon to what already looked like a deep bullpen, signing veteran right-hander Alex Colomé to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp.

Colomé, 34, isn’t guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster and will have to prove himself during spring training. But his lengthy track record as a late-inning reliever should give him a leg up over others trying to break camp with the club.

The Nationals have long been intrigued by Colomé, his name having come up several times in the past when they were searching for late-inning help at the trade deadline. Only now, on the heels of back-to-back rough seasons with the Twins and Rockies, is he finally joining the club.

Owner of 159 career saves, Colomé was an All-Star with a 1.91 ERA in 2016 and closed out 47 games for the Rays in 2017, leading the league.

Traded the following year to the Mariners – along with former Nationals center fielder Denard Span – he continued to enjoy success in Seattle and then in Chicago with the White Sox. At the end of the 2020 season, he sported a 2.95 ERA and 1.177 WHIP across 326 big league appearances.

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The best and worst one-year deals in Nationals history

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The Nationals’ moves so far this winter have almost exclusively involved one-year deals. Only right-hander Trevor Williams (two years, $13 million) got more than a one-year commitment from the Nats, who signed Jeimer Candelario ($5 million), Corey Dickerson ($2.25 million) and Dominic Smith ($2 million) each to short-term contracts.

There are no bad one-year deals. So say many baseball executives, justifying even the high-salary contracts to players who don’t pan out as worthy because of the lack of the kind of long-term commitment that can hamper a franchise.

Some one-year deals, however, are better than others. Sometimes, a team can turn a minimal payout into quality production (and maybe even flip a player at the trade deadline for a prospect). And sometimes, a team can waste a large chunk of money on a guy who doesn’t live up to his potential and loses whatever trade value he might have had.

The Nationals have signed plenty of free agents to one-year deals in their history. Which were the best? Which were the worst? (Note: We’re only talking about free agents who played somewhere else the previous season and signed major league contracts with the Nats. No players who re-signed, and no players who signed minor league contracts included for these purposes.)

Here’s one humble reporter’s take …

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Hernández headed to Detroit; Wood, Hassell receive more praise

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After a dismal year in D.C., César Hernández will try to resurrect his career by making Detroit’s roster off a minor league deal.

Hernández agreed to a non-guaranteed contract with an invitation to big league camp Wednesday, according to multiple reports. If he makes the Tigers’ roster, he’ll earn a $1.5 million salary, with the possibility of another $1.85 million in performance bonuses.

It’s a steep drop-off in financial security for the 32-year-old infielder, who got a $4 million major league deal with the Nationals last winter and was handed the Opening Day job at second base.

Hernández never lived up to the billing. His .629 OPS was his lowest since 2014, when he was still trying to make it with the Phillies. After launching 21 homers for the White Sox and Cleveland in 2021, he homered just once for the Nats, and that blast didn’t come until Sept. 4 in his 124th game played.

In spite of his struggles, Hernández actually took more plate appearances than any other member of the Nationals last season, coming up to bat 617 times. He remained the everyday second baseman into late August, at which point the team was finally ready to go with a young middle infield combo of CJ Abrams and Luis García. Hernández wound up seeing some playing time in left field down the stretch.

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Who would make a theoretical Nationals Hall of Fame?

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Eighteen seasons into their existence, the Nationals can only claim one former player who was inducted to the Hall of Fame. And while Ivan Rodriguez’s Cooperstown case was rock solid, few really remember the great catcher for the two seasons he spent in D.C. at the end of his career.

It’ll be a while longer before any other former Nats are elected. Figure it’ll be at least seven years until Max Scherzer completes both his contract with the Mets and then the requisite five-year waiting period to become eligible. And if Max has anything to say about it, he has no intention of retiring in two years anyway.

It’ll take even longer before the likes of Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon end their careers. Besides, each of them still has plenty of work to do to solidify his resume, with Soto and Harper in the best position of the four at the moment and Rendon desperately needing to right his wayward ship since he left Washington for Anaheim.

So, the Nationals’ representation in Cooperstown may stay minimal for some time.

But what about honoring former players who don’t really have a Hall of Fame case but still left an indelible impact on the franchise? There’s a longer list of those players, and maybe as the Nats’ approach their third decade in town it’s time to start thinking about them more.

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My 2023 Hall of Fame ballot

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Every Hall of Fame ballot is different. Some years, they’re stacked with qualified candidates, leading at times to a forced paring down of choices to adhere to the Hall’s longstanding rule against voting for more than 10 players. Some years, they’re lacking in obvious choices, which can lead to only a handful of votes and unfortunately no new inductees.

The 2023 ballot leaned more toward the latter description than the former.

Of the 28 names up for consideration – a big drop from the 35-player ballot of 2019 – there were no absolute, slam-dunk choices, no clear first-time electees who don’t even require a moment of research before placing a checkmark next to their name.

There were 14 newcomers to this ballot, and the most notable of them (Carlos Beltran) carried with him the stigma of the 2017 Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal. There were 14 returning players who received at least 5 percent support last year, and the best among those were longtime hopefuls Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner. There were better players than those eligible for election, but each was tainted by the stain of performance enhancing drug usage (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield).

The end result of all that: Rolen was the only player who crossed the sacred 75 percent threshold this year. And he barely did, named on 76.3 percent of ballots. Helton came up just short, receiving 72.2 percent support, with Wagner following him at 68.1 percent.

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What to watch for in tonight's Hall of Fame announcement

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It’s Hall of Fame election day, and while there aren’t any real significant Nationals ties this year – aside from Jayson Werth making the ballot for the first time – it’s still the biggest story around the baseball world for the next 24 hours. So, let’s take this opportunity to look ahead to what may transpire.

The official announcement is scheduled for 6 p.m. Eastern on MLB Network, but the votes have all been in since Dec. 31. There were 28 players on this year’s ballot, 14 of them holdovers who received at least 5 percent support last year, plus 14 newcomers making their ballot debuts.

We already know the Class of 2023 will include Fred McGriff, the lone player elected last month by the Contemporary Era Committee. That committee, made up of 16 Hall of Famers, baseball executives and veteran media members/historians, overwhelmingly voted not to elect Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling (among others), who all had failed to reach the required 75 percent support threshold on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot over a 10-year period.

With those noteworthy, controversial candidates passed off to the Era Committee, this year’s BBWAA ballot felt a little less dramatic than in the past. But don’t worry, it still presented several controversial cases, including one for a brand-new reason that never had to be considered before.

I once again had the privilege of voting, and as always, I’ll publish my full ballot and reasons why I voted for or against everyone on the ballot after the official announcement this evening. Until then, here’s a primer to get you set for the festivities …

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Will improved middle infield have real impact on pitching?

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As much as the Nationals pitching staff struggled last season, there was always an underlying question in the back of coaches and front office members’ minds: How much did bad defense contribute to those struggles?

Statistically, the Nats pitching staff was the worst in the majors in 2022. So, too, was the team’s defense.

Until mid-August, that is, at which point things took a distinct turn in a positive direction.

On Aug. 15, the Nationals promoted CJ Abrams from Triple-A Rochester. One of the prized prospects acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade two weeks earlier, Abrams immediately was handed the starting shortstop job. And he immediately paid dividends.

On the morning of Aug. 15, the Nationals pitching staff sported a 5.30 ERA while also watching opponents score .45 unearned runs per game. From that day through the remainder of the season, the staff ERA dropped to a far more respectable 4.26, with opponents now scoring .39 unearned runs per game.

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Meneses, Ramirez headed to WBC; Barrera signs with Cards

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At least two members of the Nationals’ projected Opening Day roster are expected to participate in this spring’s World Baseball Classic, with Joey Meneses and Erasmo Ramirez among those named to their home countries’ preliminary rosters.

Meneses (Mexico) and Ramirez (Nicaragua) were formally included on the WBC preliminary rosters that were reported Friday. Barring injury, each should hold a prominent role on his country’s national team for this spring’s tournament.

Meneses, who became something of a celebrity back home during his stunning two-month debut with the Nationals late last season, is likely to be Mexico’s starting first baseman and hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup. Ramirez, who was named Nats’ Pitcher of the Year after posting a 2.92 ERA in 86 1/3 innings, could start for Nicaragua even though he’ll again be a member of the Nationals bullpen this season.

Players who participate in the WBC could miss a significant chunk of spring training, depending on how far their teams advance in the tournament.

Mexico will compete in Pool C (along with the United States, Canada, Colombia and Great Britain), with pool play scheduled for March 11-15 in Phoenix following several days of workouts and exhibitions. Nicaragua (which qualified for the first time) is competing in the powerhouse Pool D (along with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Israel), with games in Miami, also scheduled for March 11-15 following several days of workouts and exhibitions.

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Where will Nationals rotation depth come from?

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The Nationals’ best hope for significant improvement in 2023 is through a significantly improved rotation. It’s really as simple as that.

The 2022 Nats rotation was awful. That group’s 5.97 ERA didn’t just rank last in the majors, it ranked last in club history. By leaps and bounds.

Only three previous times had the Nationals ended a season with a rotation ERA over 5.00: In 2006 (5.37), 2007 (5.11) and the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign (5.38). Davey Martinez and Jim Hickey would’ve killed to get those kind of numbers last season, which tells you just how bad things were.

The organization, though, believes it is ready to take a big step forward in starting pitching. That belief is based in the hope that three young building blocks (MacKenzie Gore, Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray) are ready to lead the way, taking pressure off Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg to have to hold those responsibilities anymore. The offseason addition of right-hander Trevor Williams, in theory, should provide some stability at the back of the rotation.

It all sounds good on paper, but what are the odds it will play out as hoped in reality?

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What new prospect rankings say about Nats farm system

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Baseball America unveiled its Top 100 Prospects list for the start of the 2023 season Wednesday, and there’s good news: The Nationals not only had four players make the list, they had four players make the top 61.

Outfielder James Wood leads the way at No. 11. Robert Hassell III (57), Elijah Green (58) and Cade Cavalli (61) are all bunched together farther down the list.

That’s a nice development for the Nats, and evidence of the influx of talent they’ve had in what used to be one of baseball’s worst farm systems. Three of those four players, of course, weren’t even in the organization one year ago at this time. Wood and Hassell came from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell blockbuster trade. Green was the No. 5 overall pick in last summer’s draft.

And when you add two young players who were highly rated entering the 2022 season but now are full-time major leaguers (CJ Abrams, No. 9; Keibert Ruiz, No. 11), it further underscores just how far the Nationals have come in the last 18 months.

Which isn’t to say they’re anywhere close to achieving what they ultimately need to achieve.

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Better, worse or the same in 2023: Pitchers

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The Nationals were bad last year, but you already know that. They want to be better this year, and you probably do, too.

But will they be better? That’s what we’re attempting to predict the last two days.

Though there’s still a month to go until spring training, and more additions or subtractions are possible, the Nats have already assembled what looks like it could be their Opening Day roster. So it’s not too early for this exercise.

We looked at position players yesterday, running through each of the positions (included designated hitter). Today, we look at the pitching staff, running through each slot in the rotation, plus multiple bullpen roles. Will the 2023 Nationals be better, worse or the same as the 2022 Nationals? Here we go …

NO. 1 STARTER: Slightly better, you have to hope
Who was the Nationals’ No. 1 starter last year? Patrick Corbin started Opening Day and threw the most innings. Josiah Gray led the staff in wins and strikeouts. Aníbal Sánchez (?!) led the starters in WAR. Point is, they don’t have a No. 1 guy, not yet. So for these purposes, we’ll go with Corbin and just look at how he may fare in 2023 vs. 2022. Enough has been said and written about the left-hander, who has steadily devolved over the last three seasons into the worst starter in baseball. He’s not going anywhere, not with two years still left on his contract. So, can he be better than 6-19 with a 6.31 ERA and 1.697 WHIP? You sure hope so, don’t you? Nobody’s going to suggest he can return to his elite 2019 form anymore. But it is fair to think he could become somewhat more respectable, and the main reason for that would be better defense behind him. His 4.83 FIP last season suggests he wasn’t solely to blame for his wretched numbers. Let’s see if an entire year of CJ Abrams at shortstop might actually bring Corbin’s ERA down under 5.00, which would have to be considered a major win.

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Better, worse or the same in 2023: Position players

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The Nationals were bad last year, but you already know that. They want to be better this year, and you probably do, too.

But will they be better? That’s what we’re going to attempt to predict the next two days.

Though there’s still a month to go until spring training, and more additions or subtractions are possible, the Nats have already assembled what looks like it could be their Opening Day roster. So, it’s not too early for this exercise.

We’ll look at position players today, running through each of the positions (included designated hitter). Then we’ll look at the pitching staff tomorrow. Will the 2023 Nationals be better, worse or the same as the 2022 Nationals? Here we go …

CATCHER: Moderately better
As a group, Nationals catchers posted a .223/.286/.330 offensive slash last season, with 26 doubles, 12 homers and 48 RBIs. Keibert Ruiz (.249/.313/.361) was better than that, and there’s good reason to believe he’ll improve as a hitter in his second full big league season. The Nats would love for his power production, in particular, to improve. Defensively, Ruiz already is solid, but there’s also room for improvement there with experience. The real issue comes on days when he doesn’t start. The team’s backup catchers were really bad last season, with Riley Adams, Tres Barrera and Israel Pineda batting a collective .198/.233/.273 over 215 plate appearances. Somebody from that group is going to have to be better this year.

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Monday morning Nats Q&A

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One month from now, Nationals pitchers and catchers will be on the back fields in West Palm Beach, Fla., with position players soon to join them. Hard to believe, right?

Though they haven't been making major news, the Nats have been making some news the last few weeks, from the signings of Dominic Smith and Corey Dickerson to the designating of Andres Machado for assignment, to the signings of five of their six arbitration-eligible players (all but Victor Robles). Oh, yeah, and then there's the whole ownership situation. Can't forget about that.

Let's take an opportunity this morning to take your questions on all things Nationals-related. If you have something you'd like to ask, please submit it in the comments section below. Then check back throughout the morning for my replies ...

A familiar story for Robles, on the field and in arbitration

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Less than one year ago, Victor Robles and the Nationals were unable to come to terms on a salary figure for the 2022 season, so the two sides filed for arbitration. This was after the lockout-delayed spring training had begun, creating a very narrow window for negotiations and for a hearing to be scheduled.

The disparity between the two sides’ official arbitration filings ($500,000) wasn’t nothing. Robles was seeking $2.1 million, while the Nats countered at $1.6 million. He was the team’s only arbitration-eligible player who didn’t sign before the deadline.

But as so often is the case in these matters, they did ultimately agree to a deal before ever setting foot in an arbitration hearing. Twelve days later, just as camp was about to wrap up, Robles and the Nationals agreed to a one-year, $1.65 million contract.

That’s right, Robles accepted an amount that was only $50,000 greater than the team’s official arbitration offer.

It was with that prior negotiation in mind that the two sides once again were unable to work out a deal prior to this year’s deadline, which came Friday night. So once again, Robles was the Nationals’ lone arbitration-eligible player who did not come to terms in time and was forced to submit a formal offer to the league.

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Robles is lone Nats player to file for arbitration (updated)

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It's deadline day for all major leaguers with more than three years and fewer than six years of service time to agree to terms with their clubs on 2023 salaries or else file for arbitration. The Nationals have six unsigned players facing today's deadline: Victor Robles, Kyle Finnegan, Lane Thomas, Carl Edwards Jr., Victor Arano and Hunter Harvey.

Bobby Blanco and I will be keeping track of any deals that come together over the course of the day, so check back for updates along the way ...

* Harvey is the first player to sign. The Nationals announced the right-hander has agreed to terms on his 2023 contract, avoiding arbitration. We don't have numbers yet, but MLB Trade Rumors projected a $1 million salary for him in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

Harvey, 28, had something of a breakthrough season out of the Nats bullpen after years of injuries with the Orioles. He did miss several months with an elbow strain, but he returned strong and finished the season healthy, with a 2.52 ERA and 1.144 WHIP, striking out 45 batters in 39 1/3 innings. He should enter the season at worst as the Nationals' seventh inning reliever, setting up Edwards and Finnegan.

* Next up is Edwards, who has avoided arbitration with his own one-year deal. The Washington Post reports he'll earn $2.25 million, which is a nice bump from his league minimum salary last season after he joined the club on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old right-hander was a revelation, producing a 2.76 ERA and 1.226 WHIP over 57 appearances, his best season since 2018 with the Cubs.

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Six Nationals face arbitration deadline today

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It’s another deadline day across Major League Baseball, this one for all arbitration-eligible players to either agree to terms on their 2023 salaries or exchange figures with their clubs and file for an arbitration hearing.

How does that work? This applies only to players with more than three years but fewer than six years of big league service time. (There are also a group of players with fewer than three years who qualify early for arbitration, the so-called “Super Two” players, but the Nationals have nobody in that category this year.)

These players don’t have the right to become free agents yet, but they do have the right to negotiate their salaries. It’s up to them and their teams to find common ground and agree to a dollar amount. If they can’t, each side submits an offer, then a hearing is set for February, at which time a three-judge panel will pick a winner and declare the player’s salary.

A couple of things that are important to remember: 1) If a player doesn’t agree to terms today, that doesn’t mean he’s no longer under contract. He’ll still be part of the team this season, it’s just going to take a while longer to determine his salary. 2) Players and teams who don’t strike a deal today must file for arbitration, but they’re still free to continue negotiating up until the hearing and could still work something out before ever appearing before the panel. This is actually quite common.

So, which players does this apply to? The Nationals have 10 players with three to six years of service time, but four of them have already agreed to 2023 salaries, either because they were cut loose by other organizations and signed as free agents (Jeimer Candelario, $5 million; Dominic Smith, $2 million) or because they negotiated deals prior to today’s deadline (Tanner Rainey, $1.5 million; Ildemaro Vargas, $975,000).

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What the Nats' Opening Day lineup might look like

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Though there’s still time for more additions before pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach – in a mere five weeks, by the way – the Nationals have now assembled what could be their Opening Day 2023 lineup.

They entered the offseason with three holes to fill: Third base, left field and either first base or designated hitter. In Jeimer Candelario, Corey Dickerson and Dominic Smith, they’re hoping they have adequately addressed those needs while constrained to a very tight budget. Those three free agents have a combined $9.25 million salary for the upcoming season, less than Josh Bell alone made last year.

Will that be enough? We’ll see. The success of the Nationals lineup may have less to do with those players’ performances than the performances of returning regulars Joey Meneses, Keibert Ruiz, CJ Abrams and Luis García.

But this is what Davey Martinez has to work with now. The question is how best to arrange this lineup.

Based on what Martinez did late last season, what he’s said this offseason and what’s now available to him, here’s one possible (probable?) batting order for Opening Day …

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More thoughts on Tuesday's transactions

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Corey Dickerson’s major league debut came June 22, 2013, when the then-24-year-old started in right field and batted sixth for the Rockies on a Saturday afternoon in Washington. He doubled twice, helped his team to a 7-1 victory and thought to himself: “This is a nice ballpark.”

“I remember like it was yesterday,” Dickerson said Tuesday, nearly a decade later. “It was amazing. I still remember that first at-bat and just walking out on the field for the first time. I felt like this is what the big leagues is all about. I always remember the Nats’ stadium because of that.”

Dickerson will get a chance to make some new memories at Nationals Park this season, his winding career having now brought him to D.C. as a member of the home team after stops in Colorado, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Miami, Toronto and St. Louis. Now 33, he signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Nats on Tuesday and figures to open the season as their starting left fielder, playing mostly against right-handed pitching.

It’s been a winding path for Dickerson, not only in the stops he’s made but in the different types of player he’s been along the way. He mashed 24-plus homers in three different seasons early in his career. He won a Gold Glove Award in 2018. He hit .304 with a .906 OPS in 2019. Then while battling injuries and reduced playing time, he focused more on being a good contact hitter in recent years.

Some might look down upon a guy who has worn seven different uniforms the last seven seasons. Dickerson, though, doesn’t view it as a negative.

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Nats announce 1-year deal with Dickerson, DFA Machado (updated)

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The Nationals are finalizing a one-year deal with veteran Corey Dickerson, a source familiar with the negotiations confirmed, addressing another pressing need in left field.

The deal with Dickerson, which includes a $2.25 million salary plus incentives, is contingent upon the 33-year-old passing a physical, the source said.

Once it’s finalized, the Nationals will have some more clarity about the makeup of a 2023 lineup that will look quite different from the one they fielded last season. If Dickerson is the primary left fielder, Joey Meneses would likely serve as the primary designated hitter, with the newly signed Dominic Smith at first base. Jeimer Candelario, another new addition this winter, is expected to start at third base.

Even if Dickerson is the Nats’ primary left fielder, he probably won’t play every day, given his longstanding struggles against left-handed pitching. Over his career, the lefty-hitting outfielder owns a .287/.331/.505 offensive slash line against right-handers, compared to .259/.299/.394 against left-handers. The disparity was even greater last season in St. Louis, where Dickerson took only 28 plate appearances vs. lefties and went 2-for-26.

An All-Star with the Rays in 2017 and a Gold Glove Award winner with the Pirates in 2018, Dickerson averaged 30 doubles and 18 homers during his first six full years in the majors. He’s been less productive the last three years, though he still maintained a league-average 100 OPS-plus in 2022 with the Cardinals, batting .267/.300/.399 with 17 doubles and six homers in 297 plate appearances.

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How much could MLB's new schedule help Nats this year?

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If the offseason is all about trying to come up with reasons why 2023 could be better for the Nationals than 2022 was, here’s another one to add to the list: The schedule should be easier, perhaps by a significant amount.

It was kind of glossed over among all the changes announced via the new collective bargaining agreement last year, but let’s remind you now Major League Baseball made a dramatic change to the scheduling process. Instead of facing the teams from only one division in the opposing league each season (plus one designated interleague rival), everyone will now face everyone from the opposing league each season.

Yes, the Nationals will face all 29 other MLB clubs this year, and every year for the foreseeable future. It’s the first that’s ever happened in this sport, and while it was done to allow fans to see more teams and more players on a regular basis, it has the added effect of diminishing the volume of games being played within a team’s own division.

The Nationals faced fellow NL East rivals a total of 76 times last season (19 games a piece against the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Marlins). They will now play only 52 games within the division (13 games a piece).

If you’ve forgotten, the Nats were abysmal vs. the NL East last year. They finished 17-59 against those four opponents, a .224 winning percentage that registered as the lowest ever since division play began in 1969. Yeah, it was a disaster.

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