Fate of 2023 Nats doesn't fall on offseason additions

CJ Abrams batting practice

The Nationals’ offseason moves to date have been, well, less than inspired.

They signed Jeimer Candelario for one year and $5 million, then Trevor Williams for two years and $13 million. They acquired, via the Rule 5 draft and the waiver wire, unproven players named Thad Ward, Stone Garrett and A.J. Alexy. They brought back sentimental favorites Sean Doolittle and Matt Adams on minor league deals. And they’re now on the verge of bringing back Erasmo Ramirez for one year and perhaps as much as $2 million if he hits all his incentives.

Not exactly a rousing Hot Stove League to date. Certainly not compared to the rest of the National League East, which has seen the Mets, Phillies and Braves continue to bolster what already were playoff rosters with even more talent and even more dollars devoted to payroll.

It’s frustrating, for fans and team employees alike who were hoping for a bit more financial commitment from ownership on the heels of a 107-loss season.

Are the 2023 Nationals as currently constructed any better than the 2022 Nationals were? It sure doesn’t look like it on paper. They might even be worse, hard as that is to believe.

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Source: Ramirez close to returning on one-year deal

ramirez pitching gray

The Nationals are close to finalizing a deal to bring Erasmo Ramirez back for the 2023 season, re-signing an invaluable member of this season’s pitching staff.

There remain a few more details to sort out before the deal is announced, including the removal of someone else from the club’s 40-man roster to open a slot, but a source confirmed the two sides are close and it should be finalized within a few days. The one-year contract would pay Ramirez as much as $2 million if he meets all incentives, according to The New York Post’s Jon Heyman.

Of the Nationals players who became free agents at season’s end, Ramirez looked the most likely to return, given his importance to the pitching staff and modest contract demands. It took a few months, but the sides appear on the verge of a deal that should be a boost to an already deep bullpen.

Though his work was often unheralded, Ramirez was a critical part of the Nats pitching staff this season, a jack of all trades who finished with a 2.92 ERA and 1.077 WHIP over a hefty 86 1/3 innings. He was one of only three major league relievers – along with the Rangers’ Brock Burke and the Angels’ Jaime Barria – to post an ERA under 3.00 while pitching at least 75 innings.

Originally signed to a minor league deal, Ramirez didn’t make the Opening Day roster. The Nationals called up the 32-year-old from Triple-A Rochester only two weeks into the season, though, and he never went back.

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Nationals bring back slugger Adams on minors deal

matt adams swing @STL blue

In their quest to add more left-handed power to a lineup that sorely lacks it, the Nationals have harkened back to their glory days and found an old friend who wants to return.

The Nats have signed Matt Adams to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp, the club announced this morning, bringing the big slugger back three years after he launched 20 homers during their championship season.

The Nationals also announced the signings of three others to minor league deals with spring training invitations: infielder Travis Blankenhorn and right-handers Anthony Castro and Tommy Romero.

Adams, 34, certainly is no stranger to Washington, having spent most of the 2018-19 seasons here. Across 605 total plate appearances, he blasted 38 homers and drove in 104 runs, batting .240 with a .786 OPS.

Notoriously streaky, Adams cooled off during the second half of the 2019 season. A shoulder sprain also hindered him and left him mostly a bystander for the postseason. He took only four plate appearances that October, all as a pinch-hitter.

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Candelario hoping Nats provide him "fresh start"

Jeimer Candelario Tigers swing white

During the course of six seasons with the Tigers, Jeimer Candelario established himself as an everyday player, then established himself as a proven hitter, then fell back to earth with a disappointing 2022 campaign. That one down year prompted Detroit to cut ties with him last month, making him a free agent for the first time.

It was something of a humbling experience for the 29-year-old, but it also opened the door for him to come to Washington and attempt to re-establish his credentials as a proven big league hitter.

“It’s going to be a fresh start with the Nationals,” Candelario said Tuesday in a Zoom session with reporters. “I know who I am, and I know what I can do. Right now, this is a big opportunity for me playing every single day at third base. It’s a big opportunity for me. I know what I can do.”

What Candelario can do is lead the league in doubles, which he did in 2021 with 42. He can produce an impressive .297/.369/.503 slash line, which is what he did during the shortened 2020 season. He can play a solid third base, which is what he did in 2022 when he ranked ninth out of 16 qualifying players at his position in defensive runs saved. And he can play first base if needed, which is what he has done 64 times in a career that dates back to 2016 with the Cubs.

The Nats just need him to prove he can do some or all of that again in 2023. They were confident enough in that possibility to give him a guaranteed $5 million contract two weeks ago, one of only two non-minimal major league deals they’ve been willing to hand out so far this offseason.

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Nats claim Alexy from Texas, drop Fox from roster


The Nationals claimed right-hander A.J. Alexy off waivers from the Rangers, dropping infielder Lucius Fox from their 40-man roster in the process.

Alexy, 24, was designated for assignment last week by the Rangers. He pitched in nine big league games for them (four of those starts) over the last two seasons, producing a 6.30 ERA and 1.633 WHIP.

Alexy spent the majority of this season starting for Texas' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, where he struggled to a 5.91 ERA and 1.708 WHIP. His biggest problem areas: walks (5.3 per nine innings) and home runs (25 allowed in 96 innings).

Originally an 11th round pick of the Dodgers in 2016, Alexy was one of three players dealt to the Rangers in 2017 for ace Yu Darvish. His best season came in 2021, when he finished with a 1.66 ERA and 1.015 WHIP in 65 combined innings at Round Rock and Double-A Frisco.

Alexy doesn't figure to be a serious contender for a spot in the Nationals' Opening Day rotation, but they continue to seek pitching help for Triple-A Rochester. The right-hander still has an option year remaining, so he could be sent up and down up to five times during the 2023 season if the Nats so wanted.

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Williams grateful for chance to start full-time for Nats


On the heels of what he termed a “unique year” with the Mets, Trevor Williams knew different teams would look at him in different ways this winter.

Having had success as a swingman in New York, bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen for a club that made the postseason, the 30-year-old right-hander might appeal to other organizations who value that kind of versatility.

Williams, though, still believed he could be an effective full-time starter, returning to the role he held with the Pirates from 2017-20. And the opportunity to return to that role shaped his approach to free agency, which ultimately landed him in Washington.

“It was a decision for my career: Do I want to follow down that path? Do I want to be a swing guy for the rest of my career? Or do I want to prove again that I can be a serviceable starter?” he said Monday during an introductory Zoom conference with Nationals reporters. “And because I’ve shown both in the past, I preferred starting.”

It appears the Nationals will meet his preference. Williams, who agreed a two-year, $13 million deal Friday, said he was told he’ll be a member of the rotation in 2023.

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Why the ban on shifts could help Nats hitters


We don’t really know yet what effect Major League Baseball’s ban on the infield shift will have on hitters next season, but teams are taking the change into consideration as they make roster decisions this winter.

That includes the Nationals, whose first offensive addition of the offseason could be among those who benefit from the lack of a shift.

Jeimer Candelario is coming off a down year in Detroit, one in which his batting average fell 54 points, his on-base percentage fell 79 points and his slugging percentage fell 82 points from the 2021 season, when he hit .271/.351/.443 and led the American League with 42 doubles.

So, why did the Nationals target the 29-year-old corner infielder after the Tigers didn’t tender him a contract last month? In part because they saw peripheral numbers this season that suggested he was especially hurt by the shift.

“We had a list of 9-10 guys that we thought could fit,” manager Davey Martinez said last week at the Winter Meetings. “And we looked at Jeimer and his numbers and the amount of ground balls he did hit to the pull side, and we thought: ‘Hey, it could definitely help him.’ ”

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Could swing men help fortify Nats pitching staff?

thompson and adams gray

The signing of Trevor Williams – which became official Saturday night – wasn’t anything that was going to send shock waves through Nationals Park or the baseball world. A two-year, $13 million deal for a 30-year-old right-hander with a career 4.27 ERA is hardly the kind of move that shapes a team’s fortunes to any great extent.

What the Williams signing did do, however, was punctuate a point the Nationals seem to be making this winter: If they can’t spend big on top-tier pitchers, they’re going to make sure they get guys who can comfortably bounce back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen.

That was Williams’ role in New York this season. When the Mets were dealing with rotation injuries from April through June, he was asked to start every five days. When that rotation finally was healthy from July through September, he shifted into a long relief role.

In that respect, Williams proved to be hugely valuable to a Mets roster that was loaded with star power but needed his versatility and effective performance to navigate through a long season that ended with a berth in the National League Wild Card Series.

Williams did whatever New York needed of him. He made nine starts. He made 21 relief appearances. He finished five games. He recorded one save. He completed at least two innings in 13 of his relief outings, completing at least four innings in four of those.

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Source: Nats sign pitcher Trevor Williams to two-year deal


The Nationals have agreed to terms with right-hander Trevor Williams on a two-year deal, according to a source familiar with the terms, landing a veteran pitcher who could either fill a slot in their rotation or bullpen.

Williams' deal is for $13 million over the two years, according to The Athletic. He earned $3.9 million this season as a member of the Mets staff.

The 30-year-old posted a 3.21 ERA and 1.227 WHIP across 89 2/3 innings for the Mets, starting nine games with 21 more appearances out of the bullpen, most of them covering multiple innings.

Once New York’s star-studded rotation was healthy by midseason, Williams mostly pitched in long relief down the stretch. He closed out the season Oct. 5 with six innings of two-run ball against the Nationals, earning the win. The Mets left him off their roster for their National League Wild Card Series against the Padres because they didn’t need as many pitchers in a best-of-three series, but they likely would’ve added him back had they advanced to the best-of-five NL Division Series.

Williams would appear for now to be the leading candidate to open the season as the Nationals’ No. 5 starter behind MacKenzie Gore, Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray and Patrick Corbin, though that’s hardly written in stone. They could continue to pursue other available free agents and have the versatile righty pitch in relief instead.

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Nats staffers anxiously waiting for sale process to conclude

mark lerner

There are a lot of demoralized Nationals employees right now.

Demoralized, yes, because three years after winning the World Series they’re still in the early stages of a massive franchise rebuild that produced 107 losses this season and the trading away of just about every prominent veteran on the roster.

But even more demoralized by the fact they don’t feel like they can truly make strides in that rebuild until the club is sold. And that process is taking far longer than anyone ever expected, with the distinct possibility it may continue to drag on for quite a while longer.

Even Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is suggesting this process is stuck in neutral. Asked during Tuesday’s 30-minute Q&A session with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America about the Angels’ sale, Manfred replied: “My understanding is that the club would like to have the sale resolved by Opening Day, though that depends on the bidding process and how quickly they can get it done.”

Asked a few minutes later for an update on the Nationals’ sale, Manfred wouldn’t offer anything resembling a response comparable to his words on the Angels: “I can’t even give you that much.”

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Quiet Winter Meetings underscore current state of Nats

davey and rizzo sitting

SAN DIEGO – Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez might have been the most visible general manager-manager duo at this year’s Winter Meetings, regularly seen in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt during both daytime and nighttime hours to an extent few of their counterparts were.

A cynic would suggest that was evidence of how little the Nationals were doing at these meetings. An optimist would counter that was merely a reflection of their willingness to be seen in public when others lock themselves in their suites for no reason beyond paranoia.

A realist would say the true answer falls somewhere in the middle of all that. Rizzo and Martinez have always been comfortable schmoozing with attendees at these meetings, whether fellow executives, managers, agents or even lowly reporters. But let’s not kid ourselves: The Nationals were among the least active franchises here over the last 3 1/2 days, because under their current circumstances there wasn’t all that much they could do.

The team’s lone major league acquisition this week was right-hander Thad Ward, the top pick in the Rule 5 draft. The most significant news of the week might well have been the securing of the No. 2 pick next summer after experiencing Major League Baseball’s inaugural draft lottery.

Not in the market for top-tier (or perhaps even second-tier) free agents, not all that aggressive in trade talks, the Nats are just treading water right now. They have some obvious holes they need to fill this winter – rotation, left-handed bat – but they believe they’ll be able to accomplish that sometime before pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. It wasn’t mandatory to make any transactions here this week.

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Nats take flyer on Red Sox righty Ward in Rule 5 draft (updated)


SAN DIEGO – With their first Rule 5 draft pick in a dozen years, the Nationals took a flyer on a right-hander who recently returned from Tommy John surgery, hoping he can make it through the entire 2023 season on the major league roster, most likely as a multi-inning reliever before ultimately joining the rotation.

Thad Ward, who spent the last five seasons in the Red Sox organization, was the Nats’ pick of the litter, going No. 1 in today’s Rule 5 draft, which unofficially wraps up the Winter Meetings.

"It makes you feel good as a player to know that other teams value you," Ward said in a conference call with reporters. "It’s really rewarding to see your hard work get seen. … Honestly, I’m just thankful. I’m going to leave it at that. I’m thankful for the opportunity, and I’m ready to get to work with the Nats and get this thing going.”

Ward, who turns 26 next month, was Boston’s organizational pitcher of the year in 2019 after posting a 2.14 ERA and 157 strikeouts in 25 combined starts between both levels of Single-A. He hasn’t pitched much since then, though, missing the 2020 season (along with all other minor leaguers) because of the pandemic, then missing most of the 2021 and 2022 campaigns while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ward returned strong this summer, producing a 2.28 ERA and 66 strikeouts across 51 1/3 innings at three levels of the Red Sox system. Seven of his starts came at Double-A Portland, where he had a 2.43 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

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Nats poised to make first Rule 5 draft pick in 12 years

Nationals Park exterior

SAN DIEGO – It’s been 12 long years since the Nationals last selected a player in the Rule 5 draft. Such was life for a franchise that spent the better part of a decade contending for a division title and October glory.

These days, though, the Nats aren’t talking about contention anytime soon. They finished with the majors’ worst record this season. That earned them a shot at the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft (they found out Tuesday night they’ll pick second instead of first). And it guaranteed them the No. 1 pick in today’s Rule 5 draft, which promises to bring an end to that long drought of inactivity.

“We’ve got a list of players that we’re going over,” general manager Mike Rizzo said earlier this week at the Winter Meetings. “If they’re players that fit what we’re trying to do right now, we’ve crafted the roster that we can take a player on. We’re going to go through the list and see if there’s someone that we really like. And if we like somebody, we’ll take them.”

There’s every reason to believe the Nationals will take somebody. Maybe even two somebodies if they want to use both of their vacant 40-man roster spots on low-risk prospects left unprotected by other organizations.

For those who don’t remember how this works: The Rule 5 draft allows teams to acquire players with at least four or five years of minor league service who aren’t currently on 40-man rosters. For the bargain-basement price of $100,000 apiece, teams can snatch those players away with one big condition: They must remain on the major league roster for the entire season (including at least 90 days on the active roster, not the injured list).

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Nationals settle for No. 2 pick after inaugural draft lottery

draft platform 2022

SAN DIEGO – The worst record in baseball in 2022 wasn’t enough to get the Nationals the best pick in the draft in 2023. But it did at least get them the next-best pick.

The Nats learned tonight they will hold the No. 2 selection next summer after losing out to the Pirates in Major League Baseball’s inaugural draft lottery.

“I’m good. I’ll live with it,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “No. 2 is a high pick, and I’m very comfortable with it. We’re going to get a very good, impactful player.”

For decades, MLB guaranteed the No. 1 pick to the franchise that finished the previous season with the league’s worst record. That’s how the Nationals were able to draft Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 after back-to-back 100-loss seasons. But amid complaints from players that teams were purposely tanking in search of the best draft position, MLB instituted a lottery for the first time this year.

The Nats, despite an major league-worst 55-107 record this season, wound up paying the price for that dramatic change. Though nobody had a better chance of winning the No. 1 pick, they were on equal footing with the Athletics (60-102) and Pirates (62-100), and even then they only had 16.5 percent odds. In fact, they actually had a better chance of emerging with the No. 7 pick (19 percent) than any other slot under the new system.

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On Strasburg's status and tonight's draft lottery

Stephen Strasburg throw blue wide

SAN DIEGO – The Nationals, as they made abundantly clear Monday, are in the market for a starting pitcher. They would love to acquire a proven arm who can make 30-plus starts next season and take pressure off the organization’s three projected young starters.

Those young starters – MacKenzie Gore, Cade Cavalli, Josiah Gray – all will open the season in the rotation, provided they’re all healthy. And manager Davey Martinez said Monday all three are healthy and will be full-go for spring training.

Martinez also said Patrick Corbin is part of the 2023 rotation, looking for a major bounce back after a dreadful 2022 season on the heels of a dreadful 2021 season.

So, in theory, that’s a five-man rotation right there, with the expected new addition joining the four holdovers.

What, though, about Stephen Strasburg? Is it even conceivable he’s part of the mix? For now, the Nationals are making no such proclamations. Neither are they ruling out the possibility, though.

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With "payroll clarity," Nats now focus on starter, left-handed bat

Mike Rizzo

SAN DIEGO – As he watches the rest of the baseball world spend hundreds of millions of dollars on top free agents, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says he has at least been told by ownership how much he can spend to address his club’s roster needs on the heels of a 107-loss season.

That, in itself, is a significant development, given the uncertainty surrounding the organization as the Lerner family continues to try to sell the franchise.

“Yeah, we’ve got payroll clarity, and we’re marching ahead with our blueprint and our plan for this offseason,” Rizzo said today in his first session of the Winter Meetings with reporters. “I think we’ve scheduled a lot of things we’re trying to get done here. Hopefully we can do something here, or shortly thereafter, to improve our club.”

Though Rizzo didn’t specify how large (or small) that budget is, the types of additions he mentioned suggest they are likely to be short-term moves for moderately priced veterans. He certainly wasn’t in the market for Trea Turner, the free agent shortstop who today agreed to a reported 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies, becoming the latest former Nationals star to sign a monster contract with a division rival.

“I’m happy for Trea,” Rizzo said. “I’m glad he got paid a lot of money. He’s a winner.”

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Turner is latest ex-Nat to sign mega deal with NL East rival


SAN DIEGO – Another former Nationals star is signing another mega deal with another division rival.

Trea Turner has agreed to an 11-year, $300 million contract with the Phillies, as first reported by ESPN and confirmed by multiple other outlets. It’s a huge payout for the free agent shortstop, now under contract through the 2033 season, during which he will turn 40.

In Philadelphia, Turner reunites with Bryce Harper (still under contract and due to earn $242 million through the 2031 season), not to mention Kyle Schwarber and hitting coach Kevin Long, all of them former Nationals.

And thus did yet another National League East rival lock up yet another former Nats star, leading to yet another decade of awkward return trips to South Capitol Street, where a demoralized fan base will have to decide whether to cheer or boo a once-beloved player who chose to sign long-term with a rival.

All of this came on the same day the Mets reportedly signed Justin Verlander to a two-year, $86 million deal, reuniting the two-time Cy Young Award winner with three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. The two previously were teammates in Detroit; now they headline the rotation in Queens, where the pressure to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1986 will be immense.

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Ready to hear from Rizzo and Martinez

davey and rizzo sitting

SAN DIEGO – Though most everyone from the baseball world arrived here Sunday, the Winter Meetings actually get underway today.

Aside from the announcement of the Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Era Players Committee vote – more on that shortly – nothing official happened Sunday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. That will change today with a flurry of activity, announcements and media availabilities.

We will hear from both Mike Rizzo and Davey Martinez this afternoon (Pacific Time), and there are no shortage of questions to ask them.

Rizzo surely will be pressed on his overall plan for the offseason, which of course depends on what kind of budget he’s been allotted by an ownership group that has been trying to sell the Nationals the last eight months. Even if he doesn’t provide concrete answers to every question, there should be plenty to interpret from the longtime general manager’s words.

Are the Nats in a position to add another big bat to a lineup that is still lacking in the wake of last week’s signing of Jeimer Candelario? Are they willing to spend the kind of money a proven starting pitcher is commanding this winter in an attempt to boost a rotation that sorely needs it?

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A very different Nats club returns to San Diego for Winter Meetings

davey and rizzo sitting

When last the baseball world gathered in San Diego for the Winter Meetings, the Nationals were the talk of the town. The defending World Series champions not only were basking in the glow of their recent title, they also found themselves right in the thick of two of the biggest free agent races of that offseason, ultimately re-signing Stephen Strasburg while watching Anthony Rendon leave for the Angels.

Three years later, the baseball world gathers again this week in San Diego for the first full-fledged Winter Meetings since the 2019 version. The pandemic wiped out the planned 2020 event. The lockout wiped out the 2021 version.

Aside from the location, this one will bear zero resemblance to the last one for the Nationals.

As they prepare to gather at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the Nats are coming off a 107-loss season, not a World Series title. They’re probably not in the market for any major free agents, let alone two of them. The biggest news they might make this week could come in Tuesday’s inaugural draft lottery or Wednesday’s annual Rule 5 draft.

Oh, how times have changed.

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Nats create two more openings on 40-man roster

Josh Palacios swinging gray

This week’s signings of Jeimer Candelario and Stone Garrett left the Nationals with a full 40-man roster. Knowing more acquisitions are likely to come at next week’s Winter Meetings, they knew they’d need to clear some more roster spots.

The Nats took care of that Thursday, announcing outfielders Yasel Antuna and Josh Palacios each cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minors. That removed both players from the 40-man roster, leaving two open slots heading into the Winter Meetings.

Both Antuna and Palacios seemed to be on thin ice heading into the offseason, with both players in danger of losing their roster spots last month when the Nationals needed to add several players to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. Though they both survived that round of cuts, they didn’t survive this one.

Antuna has been regarded as one of the organization’s better offensive prospects since he was signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2016 for a hefty $3.9 million. But outside of a strong 2017 debut in rookie ball in which he batted .301/.382/.399, he hasn’t been able to hit consistently in the minors. Over the course of five professional seasons spanning 1,548 plate appearances, Antuna owns a .231/.329/.358 slash line with 65 doubles, 30 homers and 157 RBIs.

The Nationals hoped a position switch this year might help after Antuna was charged with 36 errors in only 96 games at shortstop in 2021. But even playing with less defensive pressure as an outfielder this season, he still struggled at the plate.

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