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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Nats shouldn't overlook importance of DH position

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Whenever a discussion has come up this winter about the Nationals’ biggest needs, the focus understandably has been on several specific positions in the field: Third base, left field, first base, No. 5 starter.

There’s another position that hasn’t garnered much attention, though, and it probably should be a bigger part of the discussion: Designated hitter.

This, of course, wasn’t something the Nationals – or any other National League club – ever had to think about prior to 2022. When the DH officially was added to the NL last spring upon agreement of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, Mike Rizzo quickly signed one of the most accomplished sluggers to ever hold that position in Nelson Cruz.

It didn’t exactly go as anyone hoped. Cruz never found any consistent success at the plate, and in the end looked very much like a 42-year-old whose best days had passed.

The Nats suffered as a result. Their DHs collectively finished with a .226 batting average, 13 homers, 78 RBIs, a .298 on-base percentage and a .620 OPS that ranked last in the NL. It’s not the only reason the offense struggled last season, but it was a big reason.

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Healthy again, Gore ready to show what Nats got in trade

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Once the shock of the trade wore off – and, yes, it was shocking, given the magnitude of last August’s deal – MacKenzie Gore’s focus shifted to one clear-cut objective: Pitch for the Nationals in 2022.

A resident of the 15-day injured list with elbow inflammation when he was one of six players shipped by the Padres to the Nationals for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, Gore knew he was going to need some time to rehab and build his arm back up. But he believed he’d be ready to make his Nats debut before season’s end.

When it didn’t happen, there were conflicting emotions.

“Yeah, I wanted to pitch,” Gore said this week in an interview for the "Nationals Hot Stove Show" on MASN. “I wasn’t throwing when I got traded, so I wanted to get back out there. That’s the best way to get to know guys. But I also understood we needed to be smart. I needed to be smart. I knew why I got to where I was, so I understood.”

Gore’s rehab wasn’t a failure, by any stretch. He made four September rehab starts for Triple-A Rochester and had no issues with his elbow along the way. But he did feel fatigued in his final outing, one in which he served up three homers in 3 2/3 innings.

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Nats may not have many spots up for grabs this spring

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The Nationals roster, as currently constructed, is by no means loaded. It’s littered with inexperienced players, plus a handful of experienced ones trying to bounce back from recent struggles. It’s exactly what you’d expect the roster of a team that lost 107 games last year to look like.

Except in one peculiar way: Nearly every position on this roster seems to already be locked up, which could make for a strange spring training.

Most 100-loss teams come to camp with a host of spots up for grabs. There’s always going to be a competition for one or two rotation jobs, at least a few places in the lineup and most definitely a bunch of bench and relief positions.

But look at the Nationals right now, and you’ll quickly realize there isn’t that much that still needs to be decided.

Eight of the nine everyday players are probably set in stone already: Catcher Keibert Ruiz, newly signed first baseman Dominic Smith, the young middle infield combo of Luis García and CJ Abrams, new third baseman Jeimer Candelario, outfielders Lane Thomas and Victor Robles, plus Joey Meneses (whether he winds up in left field or as designated hitter).

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Smith expects to be Nationals' primary first baseman

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Wearing a newly purchased, block W cherry blossom cap as he spoke to reporters via Zoom early Wednesday evening, Dominic Smith made it clear he doesn’t just expect to be a part of the 2023 Nationals. He expects to be a big part of the 2023 Nationals as their primary first baseman.

“Oh yeah, they want me to come in and play first base,” Smith said when asked if that was conveyed to him upon signing his one-year, $2 million deal this week. “And obviously just share my knowledge of the game and help some of the younger guys get over the kind of speed bumps I’ve had in my career. I think I can share my knowledge. I’m just excited for the opportunity. I know my ability and what I can do out there.”

Club officials have not spoken publicly since Smith’s contract became official, but manager Davey Martinez had indicated last month he wanted Joey Meneses to be his regular first baseman, with a focus instead on acquiring a left fielder.

Smith, though, profiles best at first base. Though he played a comparable number of games at both positions during parts of six seasons with the Mets, he rated much better at first base (minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved) than in left field (minus-11).

The 27-year-old made it sound like the promise of an everyday job at first base was a key reason for his decision to come to Washington. He believes some of his offensive struggles the last two seasons were exacerbated by his defensive struggles in the outfield. A chance to stay at his more comfortable position full-time would take a lot of weight off his shoulders, he believes.

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Once-productive Smith is worth the gamble for Nats (updated)

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In compiling a list Tuesday morning of remaining free agents the Nationals might have been looking at to play left field for them, we failed to mention the guy they actually agreed to a deal with later in the day.

Sorry, MLB Trade Rumors’ free agent page had Dominic Smith listed among the first basemen, not the left fielders.

It remains to be seen exactly how Davey Martinez intends to use Smith, who sources confirmed agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal with an additional $2 million possible in incentives. But MLB Trade Rumors’ decision to categorize him only as a first baseman might shed some important light into the matter.

Though he has played nearly the same number of games in left field (182) as first base (187) in his major league career, Smith has been considerably better at the latter position. He’s totaled minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved at first base, compared to minus-11 in left field.

It’s more instructive to look at Smith’s minor league career, where he spent the overwhelming majority of his time at first base (565 games), not in left field (22 games).

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Source: Nats signing former Met Dominic Smith

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The Nationals’ search for a left-handed bat has landed on a familiar face from the National League East: Dominic Smith.

The Nats have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the former Mets first baseman and outfielder, guaranteeing him $2 million plus incentives, a source familiar with the terms confirmed.

Smith, 27, had been a member of the Mets since 2017, producing a .246/.308/.424 slash line with 46 homers, 179 RBIs and a .733 OPS over 447 total games. He was non-tendered in November, though, after a rough 2022 season that saw him bat only .194 with zero homers over 152 plate appearances.

USA Today was first to report the signing.

The Nationals had been searching for an affordable, left-handed bat to fill a much-needed hole in their lineup, and Smith certainly fits that bill. It remains to be seen where he’s used in the field, but he could either start in left field, at first base (bumping Joey Meneses to the outfield), serve as designated hitter or be the left-handed portion of a platoon at any of those positions, depending on what manager Davey Martinez needs on a given night.

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Next on Nats' shopping list: left fielder

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After most teams closed down shop over the holidays, the Hot Stove League should re-commence this week, as teams try to address the remaining holes on their rosters in advance of spring training. (Which begins in only six weeks!)

Most of the top free agents already signed last month, but there is a swath of unsigned major leaguers still out there. And that could play to the Nationals’ advantage.

We knew the Nats weren’t going to be in on any prominent (i.e. expensive) free agents, but they have needed to make at least a few affordable additions this winter. And after addressing third base (Jeimer Candelario) and No. 5 starter (Trevor Williams), the clear top remaining need is in left field.

As we’ve mentioned before, the depth chart in left field currently begins with Alex Call and Stone Garrett. And with all due respect to those guys, it’s just not realistic to think the Nationals would open the season with those two and nobody else at the position.

So the time should be coming soon when Mike Rizzo strikes a deal with somebody more experienced. And there are a decent number of potential candidates out there.

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Cishek retires after pitching for Nats in 13th MLB season

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In an alternate universe, Steve Cishek would’ve been a consistently effective setup man for the Nationals last season, effective enough to draw interest from other clubs over the summer and spend the rest of the year pitching for a contender while the Nats got a prospect or two in return.

It didn’t happen that way, of course. Cishek, while effective at times, was wildly inconsistent and never fully locked down the late-inning role the Nationals envisioned when they signed him for $1.75 million. There was no serious trade interest, so the right-hander stuck around through the end of what turned out to be his final big league season.

Cishek revealed over the weekend he’s retiring, telling The Bourne Enterprise in his hometown of Falmouth, Mass., he’s ready to call it a career after 13 major league seasons.

“It’s time,” Cishek told the paper. “It’s gotten harder for me to bounce back game-to-game. The ball wasn’t coming out as crisp as before, and it felt like I had to pitch differently. I know I’ll get the bug and want to get back out there, but I don’t think I’m pulling a Tom Brady.”

Cishek, 36, was one of the sport’s most consistent and durable relievers over a lengthy career spent pitching for eight different organizations. He finished with a strong 2.98 ERA and 1.200 WHIP, making 737 big league appearances, earning a save in 133 of them.

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What the Nationals are hoping for in 2023

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It’s New Year’s Day, and you won’t find anybody associated with the Nationals not named Meneses who was disappointed to see 2022 come to an end.

It was a miserable year, arguably the most miserable year in club history.

But like Mark McGwire once tried to do in front of a congressional panel, let’s not talk about the past anymore. Let’s look ahead to the future.

What does 2023 have in store for the Nats? Optimism, obviously, isn’t going to be sky-high, but there are plenty of reasons to believe it will at least be better than the just-completed year was.

Here are some reasonable outcomes various members of the team should be hoping to achieve in 2023 …

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Most significant stories of 2022: When will the Nats be sold?

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We’ve reached the final week of the year, so it’s time to look back at the Nationals’ most significant stories of 2022. We conclude the series today with the story that has hovered over the franchise since April: The Lerner family’s interest in selling the club …

Upon announcing the long-awaited sale of the league-owned Nationals in May 2006, then-commissioner Bud Selig made it clear why the Lerner family was so appealing to him.

“The family model meant a lot to me,” Selig said way back then. “I’ve seen the family model work, and it works well. There’s continuity. There’s stability. If you look back in our history, the family model works well.”

For 16 years, there was every reason to believe Selig was right about that. Ted Lerner, who was 80 at the time of the purchase, was the Nationals’ managing principal owner until 2018, when his son Mark took over. Together, they celebrated Washington’s first World Series title in 95 years the following October.

And at some point in the future, Mark Lerner figured to hand the reins of the franchise to his sons, Jonathan and Jacob, continuing the family legacy for another generation.

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Most significant stories of 2022: Soto traded to San Diego

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We’ve reached the final week of the year, so it’s time to look back at the Nationals’ most significant stories of 2022. We continue the series today with the franchise-altering trade of Juan Soto to the Padres …

The notion of dealing Juan Soto at the Aug. 2 trade deadline, while occasionally raised by outside forces looking to stir things up, was never taken seriously by anyone who closely followed the Nationals as late in the process as July 15.

Then came the morning of July 16, and with it a bombshell report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The headline said it all: “Juan Soto rejects $440 million offer; Nationals will entertain trade proposals.”

Thus was Soto’s world turned upside down for the next 17 days. The star slugger couldn’t go anywhere without being inundated with questions about his future. Did he really turn down that much money? How much would the Nats have to offer to get him to stay? Did he want to be traded? If so, where did he want to play? And if he was traded, would he then sign an extension with that club?

It made for an interminable 2 1/2 weeks, with the All-Star break smack in the thick of it all. And by the time the Aug. 2 trade deadline arrived, all Soto or anyone else really wanted was some resolution to the matter, whatever the outcome.

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Most significant stories of 2022: Strasburg can't get healthy

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We’ve reached the final week of the year, so it’s time to look back at the Nationals’ most significant stories of 2022. We continue the series today with the continued health struggles of Stephen Strasburg …

Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals were legitimately encouraged. No, the results weren’t what either was hoping for. But on an early-June evening in Miami, the results from Strasburg’s first major league start since the previous summer’s thoracic outlet surgery felt less important than the state of the right-hander’s arm.

And the right-hander honestly was satisfied in that regard.

“It felt good,” Strasburg said after giving up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings to the Marlins on June 9. “I’m excited to learn from it and get back out there for my next one. All in all, it’s a place to start and try to build off it.”

Little did Strasburg, the Nationals or anyone else realize that would be his one and only start of the season. Or that there would now be fear that was the final start of his roller-coaster career.

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Most significant stories of 2022: Meneses' surprise arrival

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We’ve reached the final week of the year, so it’s time to look back at the Nationals’ most significant stories of 2022. We continue the series today with the most unexpected development of the season: Joey Meneses …

The saddest day of the 2022 season in Washington happened to be the happiest day of Joey Meneses’ professional life. As Nationals fans lamented the trade of Juan Soto to San Diego, Meneses donned a big league uniform for the first time in a wandering career that most everyone in the sport had glossed over.

A 30-year-old rookie, Meneses had spent seven seasons in the Braves farm system, then one playing for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, then part of one playing in Japan, then 1 1/2 seasons playing back home in Mexico, then one season playing for the Red Sox’s Triple-A club. The Nats signed him to a minor league deal last winter and gave him a chance to play every day at Triple-A Rochester, where he figured to spend the entire year.

But on that fateful day in August when Soto and Josh Bell were shipped off to San Diego for a host of prospects and the Nationals found themselves desperate to field a lineup for that night’s game against the Mets, it was Meneses who got the call. There he was, batting sixth and starting at first base, in a major league game at last.

“First of all, this is a dream come true,” Meneses said to a throng of reporters that left him looking like a deer caught in headlights. “It’s something that I dreamed about, obviously, growing up as a little kid. I’ve never gotten the opportunity, basically, and I want to thank the organization and everyone involved that gave me the opportunity to be up here. I’m very grateful.”

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Most significant stories of 2022: Rebuilding the farm system

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We’ve reached the final week of the year, so it’s time to look back at the Nationals’ most significant stories of 2022. We begin the series today with something taking place away from D.C.: The rebuilding of the organization’s farm system …

The Nationals knew a successful 2022 season was going to be less about what happened in the major leagues and more about what happened in the minor leagues. In the first full year of an organization-wide rebuild, progress was more likely to be found in places like Fredericksburg, Wilmington and West Palm Beach than in Washington.

And in some regards, that’s exactly what happened. While the big league club slogged its way through a 107-loss campaign, two of the franchise’s lower-level affiliates finished atop their respective divisions: Single-A Fredericksburg went 75-55 to win the Carolina League’s North division before falling in the playoffs, while the Rookie-level Florida Complex League Nats tied with the Mets atop the East division with a 33-22 record.

For years, general manager Mike Rizzo and his lieutenants downplayed the significance of won-loss records in the minors. This year, they were more apt to mention it, insisting team success on the farm does carry some weight.

“I think it’s important,” director of player development De Jon Watson said last month. “Because we’re trying to teach kids to play the game the right way, and teach them how to win.”

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Thoughts on last week's Nationals news

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Hope everyone had a happy, healthy and safe holiday weekend. My thanks to Bobby Blanco for staying on top of all the Nationals news last week while I was on vacation with my family. Turns out the Nats made a fair bit of news during what often is a very slow time of the year.

Here are some thoughts on what transpired since we last spoke …

* Jeter Downs claimed from Red Sox
Two years ago, this would’ve registered high on the Richter scale. The Nationals acquiring one of the top infield prospects in baseball? That’s big news, right?

Well, maybe in December 2020 it would’ve been. Not nearly as much in December 2022.

That’s because Downs has seen a once-promising career flounder over the last two seasons. After putting up big numbers in Single-A and Double-A in 2019, Downs was perhaps the centerpiece return in Boston’s blockbuster trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. But nothing went right for him with the Red Sox organization.

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Looking at the current state of the 40-man roster

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Though this offseason hasn’t seen the Nationals make a lot of major waves, it has seen them make plenty of minor ones.

More than one-quarter of the slots on the organization’s 40-man roster have changed since the season ended, with 11 new additions to the mix. Some were promoted from within the farm system. Others were acquired either via free agency or from other clubs.

There are still more changes to come, perhaps one more within the next day or two once Erasmo Ramirez’s new one-year deal becomes official, requiring the removal of someone else from the roster.

But in the meantime, let’s review who is currently on the 40-man roster, and where the Nationals’ most significant needs still remain …

CATCHERS (3): Keibert Ruiz, Riley Adams, Israel Pineda
Comment: The Nats appear pretty much set here. Ruiz is the clear-cut No. 1 catcher. Adams and Pineda should compete with each other during spring training for the backup job, with the loser headed to Triple-A Rochester.

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Shoulder healthy again, Cavalli itching to get to spring training

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From the moment the Nationals declared his season over due to lingering soreness in his shoulder, Cade Cavalli has been itching to get back on a mound and start pitching again.

He hasn’t quite reached that point yet in his offseason throwing program, but that’s not for lack of desire on his part.

“Cade said he’s ready to fire the ball, and I told him: ‘Well, don’t do that yet,’ ” manager Davey Martinez said last week at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. “We’ve got plenty of time. But he’s fired up.”

Cavalli knows no other way. The energetic 24-year-old is eternally optimistic, which is why he has never viewed his September shoulder issues as anything but an important lesson in understanding when not to try to pitch through something that doesn’t feel 100 percent right.

Cavalli didn’t feel 100 percent right during his Aug. 26 major league debut. On a hot, muggy summer night at Nationals Park, he had all kinds of trouble gripping the ball and wound up allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to a less-than-imposing Reds lineup, walking two batters while hitting three more.

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