Thursday morning Nats Q&A

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The Hot Stove is finally starting to percolate a bit. The Nationals have made their first two major league acquisitions of the offseason (corner infielder Jeimer Candelario, outfielder Stone Garrett). The Winter Meetings begin Sunday in San Diego, with the brand-new MLB Draft Lottery and the traditional Rule 5 Draft of particular importance this year.

We've even got a brand-new offseason show set to debut on MASN: Watch "The Hot Stove Show" Fridays at 9:30 p.m., co-hosted by Brendan Mortensen and yours truly. We'll have news, analysis and interviews with club personnel and players every week.

This morning, though, we've got another version of the Q&A. Hopefully, there's no shortage of topics you're interested in, so please submit your questions in the comments section below, then check back throughout the morning for my replies ...

How Tuesday's additions fit into Nats' winter plans

stone garrett dbacks

The additions of Jeimer Candelario and Stone Garrett aren’t going to dramatically alter the Nationals’ 2023 lineup. The two players, signed as free agents Tuesday, aren’t big enough bats to turn one of the majors’ least-productive batting orders into one of the sport’s best.

What the signings do provide the Nats, though, are depth and options for manager Davey Martinez, especially in the case of Candelario.

The 29-year-old switch-hitter, non-tendered by the Tigers two weeks ago, is coming off a rough season in which he hit a weak .217 with 19 doubles, 13 homers, 50 RBIs and a .633 OPS. That’s roughly comparable to what the Nationals got from all of their third basemen in 2022: a .237 average, 26 doubles, 12 homers, 64 RBIs and a .613 OPS.

If the Nats get the 2022 version of Candelario, they will have wasted $5 million. If, however, they get anything resembling the 2020-21 versions of him, they’ll get a significant upgrade, not to mention a guy who doesn’t have to play exclusively at third base.

In those two previous seasons, Candelario hit .278 with a .356 on-base percentage, .458 slugging percentage and .814 OPS. On a 162-game basis – you have to do this to account for the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign – he averaged 43 doubles, 19 homers and 77 RBIs. Do you think the Nats would take that? Uh, yeah.

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Nats sign third baseman Candelario, outfielder Garrett (updated)

Jeimer Candelario Tigers throw white

The Nationals made their first major league acquisitions of the offseason today, signing free agent Jeimer Candelario to a one-year deal to add an experienced third baseman coming off a rough season to a lineup that needs plenty of added production, then signing power-hitting outfielder Stone Garrett to a major league deal.

Candelario contract guarantees the 29-year-old a $5 million salary, with another $1 million available in incentives, according to the New York Post's Jon Heyman. Garrett, who appeared in 27 games for the Diamondbacks after making his major league debut this summer, gets a league minimum deal but is under the club's control for six years.

A switch-hitter originally signed by the Cubs in 2010 as an amateur free agent, Candelario went to the Tigers in a July 2017 trade deadline deal that sent veterans Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to Chicago. Over the ensuing six seasons, he hit .243 with 124 doubles, 65 homers, 245 RBIs and a .728 OPS.

Candelario peaked during the 2020-21 seasons, posting a combined slash line of .278/.356/.458 for a well-above-average OPS-plus of 125. He tied for the major league lead with 42 doubles to go along with 16 homers in 2021 and finished that season with 3.8 bWAR.

Candelario’s production dropped significantly this season, though. In 124 games, he batted just .217/.272/.361 with 19 doubles, 13 homers and 50 RBIs, his bWAR plummeting to 0.6. Entering his final year of arbitration and due to earn a raise from his $5.8 million salary, the Tigers chose not to tender him a contract at the Nov. 18 deadline, making him a free agent.

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Are any trades plausible for the Nats this winter?


The last two seasons of Nationals baseball have been defined by one particular type of transaction: the trade.

From July 29, 2021 through Aug. 2, 2022, general manager Mike Rizzo made eight deals with other clubs, sending 11 veterans to contenders in exchange for 19 players (all but one of them prospects).

It’s not hyperbole to say those trades completely changed the complexion of the Nationals franchise. Gone were the likes of Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Bell, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes and others. In were a host of potential young building blocks who remade a barren farm system and have begun to take over the major league roster, including Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, Robert Hassell III, James Wood, Lane Thomas, Mason Thompson and more.

Now, Rizzo is attempting to supplement that new core group of youngsters with a few free agents who could help fill holes in the rotation and lineup. But is the free agent market his only path to address those needs?

Is it even possible for the Nats to make more trades this winter?

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Where will Nationals' power come from next season?


The Nationals were bad in a lot of ways this season. You don’t lose 107 games because of a deficiency in one single department. You lose that many games because of multiple problem areas.

And one of the Nats’ most notable problems in 2022 was a lack of power. Like, a complete lack of power.

They hit only 136 home runs, fewest in the National League. That represented the team’s lowest total for any scheduled 162-game season since 2008, when they finished with a league-worst 117 homers.

The Nationals hadn’t resided anywhere close to the bottom of the league in all the years since. Only once did they rank 10th in the NL, and that came during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. From 2011-19, they always ranked in the top half of the league in homers, and five times ranked among the top four power-hitting teams in the NL.

Suffice it to say, they’re going to need to improve in this area next season if they’re going to make some real strides in their rebuilding efforts.

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How the Nationals fared in the Arizona Fall League


There weren’t a lot of prominent Nationals prospects who participated in this year’s Arizona Fall League, and the most prominent of the lot appeared in only two games due to injury. So you’re forgiven if you didn’t pay much attention to the month-long showcase of top minor leaguers that wrapped up Nov. 12.

That’s what we’re here for: To provide a recap for you.

Of the 10 players the Nats sent to Arizona to join the Peoria Javelinas, only two appear on the organization’s top 30 prospects list compiled by MLB Pipeline, and wouldn’t you know it’s the guy at the top of the list and the guy at the bottom of the list.

No. 1 prospect Robert Hassell III was hoping to spend a month facing elite pitching and establishing his credentials for a possible big league debut sometime in 2023. But the 21-year-old outfielder, acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade, played in only two games (he went 1-for-6 with an RBI) before a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist brought everything to a screeching halt.

Hassell had surgery to remove the bone, a fairly common procedure that typically carries a recovery time of 6-8 weeks. So there’s no real concern about him heading into spring training. But it’s still disappointing he didn’t get more of a chance to see how he stacked up against other top prospects.

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Searching for reasons Nats fans can be thankful this year

CJ Abrams Luis Garcia gray celebrate

Finding something to be thankful about the Washington Nationals this year? Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

Maybe it wasn’t the best year in Nationals history. OK, actually it was officially the worst season in Nationals history, with not only a club record 107 losses but the trade of Juan Soto, the continued injury woes of Stephen Strasburg and the pending sale of the franchise by the Lerner family.

But even with all that negativity, there are still some things to be thankful for right now, if you look hard enough.

Like a restocked farm system that no longer ranks among the worst in baseball. In particular, there’s some legitimate outfield depth in the organization now, from Robert Hassell III to James Wood to Elijah Green to Cristhian Vaquero to Jeremy De La Rosa.

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Looking at hitters who could be on Nats' radar this winter

bell homers home blue

We noted the other day how the Nationals intend to pursue at least one starting pitcher this winter, trying to add some much-needed depth to what was baseball’s worst rotation this season. If that’s priority No. 1 over the next few months, priority No. 2 is the addition of a middle-of-the-order hitter.

Er, make that two middle-of-the-order hitters.

Last week’s decision to non-tender Luke Voit leaves the Nats with a couple of pretty big holes in the heart of their lineup. They already were going to need a corner outfielder after parting ways with Yadiel Hernandez. Now they’re going to need somebody to take Voit’s spot, whether that’s as designated hitter or first baseman.

Think of it this way: Between first base, left field and DH, the Nationals currently have one capable answer in Joey Meneses (who, it should be noted, is anything but a sure thing after only two months in the majors, no matter how impressive those two months were).

That’s two spots that need to be addressed, and there just don’t appear to be any viable in-house options, at least not anybody who could be trusted to play every day.

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Werth among first-timers on 2023 Hall of Fame ballot


The Nationals have existed for 18 seasons now, but to date there’s only one Hall of Famer who played for them: Ivan Rodriguez.

And though 13 former Nats players have appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, the vast majority of them were never really thought of as Nationals: Rick Ankiel, Brad Lidge, Matt Stairs, Aaron Boone, Paul Lo Duca, Alfonso Soriano, Mike Stanton, Royce Clayton, Vinny Castilla, Lenny Harris, Carlos Baerga and of course Jonathan Papelbon.

You can make a case for Adam Dunn and Livan Hernandez having made a name for themselves as Nationals, but Dunn still is thought of more as a Red and Hernandez is forever linked to the Marlins team he helped win a World Series title.

This year, though, we finally get a legitimate former National on the Hall of Fame ballot: Jayson Werth.

Though he debuted with the Blue Jays and Dodgers, then won a championship with the Phillies, Werth wound up spending the entire second half of his career in Washington. He’s fifth all-time in games played (808), plate appearances (3,427), hits (781) and RBIs (393) for the Nationals, fourth in runs scored (450), sixth in home runs (109).

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A preliminary look at the free agent pitching market


Though there’s been a bit of movement on the free agent market elsewhere, we’re still in the preliminary stages of the offseason around here. The Nationals have yet to add anybody to the fold, focusing instead on which players to add to their 40-man roster and which players to remove from the equation.

But now that they’ve completed those tasks, it’s fair to wonder when they’ll start moving onto free agency and addressing a handful of significant needs. (It’s also fair to wonder if they’ll be able to address any of those needs while the club is still for sale, but we’ve already raised that question and there’s not much more to say about that for now.)

So let’s proceed as if Mark Lerner has given Mike Rizzo the green light to spend some money this winter. Not gobs of money, but enough money to fill roster holes with actual free agents, not just bargain-basement pickups.

The Nationals have multiple needs. We’ll focus today on a particularly important one: starting pitching.

The 2022 rotation ranked dead-last in the majors in ERA (5.97) by a longshot, last in WHIP (1.563), last in walks per nine innings (3.76), last in strikeouts per walk (1.97), last in homers allowed (161). It’s hard to believe they finished with the majors’ worst record as well, isn’t it?

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With change occurring elsewhere, Nats remain stable for now

Mike Rizzo

Stability in baseball is a rare thing. It’s rare in the clubhouse. It’s rare in the manager’s office. And it’s certainly rare in the front office, where heads of baseball operations routinely find themselves under pressure to create success and then sustain it.

When Mike Rizzo took over as general manager in 2009, the Nationals had no stability. The Lerner family was only in its third year of ownership. Likewise for Stan Kasten, the team’s president. Jim Bowden had just resigned amid a Latin American prospect scandal. Manny Acta, who replaced Frank Robinson as manager in 2007, was on the hot seat and would be fired during the All-Star break.

A whole lot has changed since then, in both good and bad ways. What hasn’t changed is the man still in charge of baseball operations.

Come spring training, Rizzo will be entering his 15th season as GM. In his line of work, that’s an eternity.

And at this point, hardly anyone else in baseball has been in that position as long.

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Could Nationals add two big bats to lineup now?

Luke Voit swing cherry blossom

On a certain level, the Nationals’ decision Friday night not to tender a contract to Luke Voit made sense. They never coveted the 31-year-old in the first place. He was simply a player added to last summer’s haul of prospects in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell deal with the Padres because the Nats needed one actual big leaguer who could finish out the season with them.

Voit wasn’t going to be part of the Nats’ long-term plan, so why spend $8 million or so via arbitration to bring him back?

That’s all sound logic, except for the end result of all this: The Nationals now need to acquire two more bats this winter, and there’s a good chance it’ll cost them more than $8 million to find somebody at least as productive as Voit.

At this early stage of the offseason, we can probably safely name six of the projected nine members of the Opening Day 2023 lineup: Keibert Ruiz behind the plate, Joey Meneses at first base (or maybe left field), Luis García and CJ Abrams in the middle infield, Victor Robles in center field and Lane Thomas in right field.

Third base will be up for grabs, with Carter Kieboom attempting to return from Tommy John surgery, Ildemaro Vargas returning after a surprisingly productive couple of months to end the season and Jake Alu now on the 40-man roster after putting up some shockingly good numbers at Triple-A Rochester.

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Nationals non-tender Voit, Fedde, Romero before deadline

Luke Voit-Nationals

The Nationals parted ways with Luke Voit, Erick Fedde and Tommy Romero this evening, electing not to tender contracts to one of the players they acquired in this summer’s blockbuster trade with the Padres and their 2014 first-round pick after underwhelming seasons.

The club did tender contracts before tonight’s 8 p.m. deadline to their seven other remaining arbitration-eligible players: Lane Thomas, Victor Robles, Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Hunter Harvey, Tanner Rainey and Victor Arano.

The Nats could still choose to re-sign Voit or Fedde if either is willing to return at a salary figure lower than they would’ve received through the arbitration process, such reunions are rare for players who aren’t attempting to come back from injuries.

Voit faced an uncertain future following his arrival in Washington as the lone experienced major leaguer the Nationals received along with five highly rated prospects from San Diego for Juan Soto and Josh Bell. Though he couldn’t become a free agent until after the 2024 season, the 31-year-old wasn’t viewed as a piece to the organization’s long-term plans. And after he hit just .226/.308/.402 in 135 total games split between the two clubs, his stock fell.

With a projected salary of $8.2 million, per MLB Trade Rumors, Voit would’ve been among the Nationals’ highest-paid players next season. If he performed up to his earlier career standards, that would’ve been a bargain. But if he duplicated this year’s numbers, it would’ve felt excessive.

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Time has come for decisions on Voit, Fedde, others

Erick Fedd throwing gray

It’s another deadline day in the baseball world. Earlier this week, it was the deadline to add players to the 40-man roster and protect them from being lost in the Rule 5 draft. Today it’s the deadline to tender contracts to all players who are eligible for salary arbitration.

What that means: Any player with at least three years but fewer than six years of big league service time – plus the “Super 2’s” who qualified before reaching the three-year mark – will learn today whether their clubs intend to make them contract offers for 2023 or part ways and leave them as free agents.

The most notable developments every year on this date don’t have to do with the players who are tendered contracts. It’s all about who doesn’t get a contract offer, who gets non-tendered.

And in the case of the Nationals, there are a couple of tough decisions to make.

The Nats have 10 arbitration-eligible players, but infielder Ildemaro Vargas already agreed to terms on a contract for 2023 earlier this week, so he’s not a part of this discussion. The decisions on six of the other players would appear to be easy ones. The team should tender contracts to Carl Edwards Jr., Victor Robles, Tanner Rainey, Hunter Harvey, Lane Thomas and Kyle Finnegan.

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How long until a National contends for a BBWAA award again?

Davey Martinez dugout red

Awards Week wraps up tonight with the announcement of the two leagues’ MVP winners, and you’re forgiven if you haven’t been paying attention to this stuff. Because, really, why would you this year?

Unless some rogue writer gave Joey Meneses a 10th place MVP vote, the Nationals will have been shut out entirely from discussion about the four major awards handed out annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America: Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year. Not a single member of the team will have received a vote on anybody’s ballot for any of the awards (unless you want to count Juan Soto or Josh Bell, who spent four months in D.C. before they were traded to San Diego).

That simply hasn’t been the case around here in a very long time.

How long? Not since 2008 have the Nationals failed to receive at least one down-ballot vote for National League MVP. In fact, at least two players had received votes each of the last six years, with three or more players receiving votes in three of those years.

The Nats have had only one actual MVP in their existence: Bryce Harper, the unanimous selection in 2015 despite the team’s disappointing record. But they’ve always found themselves in the discussion, with top-three finishes in several other years and almost always at least one top-10 finisher.

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The ramifications of Tuesday's roster moves


Tuesday wound up a busy day for the Nationals, who added six players to the 40-man roster, dropped four others and announced a couple more transactions to boot.

Here are some more thoughts on what transpired …

* The decision to outright Yadiel Hernandez to Triple-A Rochester might be a tip-off to more decisions that will be coming in the days and weeks to come.

The Nats clearly felt Hernandez wasn’t in their Opening Day 2023 plans, but that does still leave left field a major question mark. Are they going to enter spring training with only Alex Call and Josh Palacios in the mix out there? No. They’re going to have to go out and get somebody with a track record. Either that, or they could move Joey Meneses to left field and look for a first baseman, if they think there’s more of a market there.

Regardless of Meneses’ eventual position, the Nationals know they need to fill a middle-of-the-order hole now. And because you’d think they probably don’t want to create a second hole for a similar bat, you have to think Luke Voit is on solid footing.

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Hernandez among cuts as Nats add six players to 40-man roster


The Nationals chose to protect six prospects from being lost in next month’s Rule 5 draft before today’s leaguewide deadline, which forced them to remove four more players from their 40-man roster, including outfielder Yadiel Hernandez.

Hernandez and right-handers Jackson Tetreault and Evan Lee all cleared waivers and were outrighted to Triple-A Rochester, so they remain in the organization, though off the 40-man roster. Right-hander Tommy Romero was designated for assignment to clear another opening for prospects who needed to be protected.

The Nats took those four openings, plus two they already had entering the day, and promoted six prospects to the 40-man roster: third baseman Jake Alu, outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa, right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Jake Irvin, plus lefties Matt Cronin and Jose Ferrer. All six of those players would have been eligible to be selected by other organizations in the Rule 5 draft.

The decision to demote Hernandez isn’t necessarily a shock, but it underscores the club’s desire to look for younger alternatives in the outfield who have a better chance of being part of the long-term plan.

Hernandez, 35, has been an above-average hitter across 644 major league plate appearances the last three seasons, with 27 doubles, 19 homers, 79 RBIs and a .727 OPS. But he spent the last two months of this season on the injured list with a calf strain, and the fact the Nationals never activated him in late September suggested they were already thinking about moving on from the veteran outfielder.

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Decision time for Rule 5 draft protection


There really hasn’t been much reason to pay attention to the Rule 5 draft around here for a long time. The Nationals haven’t selected a player in the annual event since 2010, and they’ve had only one player poached from them since 2014.

That’s probably going to change this winter. Because for the first time in a long time, the Nats own one of the first picks in the Rule 5 draft. Specifically, the first pick.

That means Mike Rizzo and his front office have their choice of any unprotected prospect in baseball. All they have to do is pony up $100,000 and be willing to keep any drafted player on their active, 26-man roster (or the injured list) for the entire 2023 season. If they decide at some point they aren’t willing to do that, they can offer the player back to his original club for $50,000.

The Rule 5 draft wraps up the Winter Meetings, so the Nationals have three weeks to evaluate potential acquisitions. When they were annually attempting to contend for a postseason berth, they didn’t feel they could afford to use a roster spot on an inexperienced player like that. Now that they’re in full-scale rebuilding mode, there’s plenty of reason to take a flyer on somebody of their choosing.

And they’ll have a much better idea of the pool of candidates available at the end of the day, because all Major League Baseball clubs are required to add Rule 5-eligible prospects to their 40-man rosters by 6 p.m., thereby protecting them from being snatched up.

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Nats release Romero after reported second DWI arrest


Seth Romero’s tumultuous five years with the Nationals came to an unceremonious end this evening when the organization requested unconditional release waivers on the left-hander, one day after he reportedly was arrested for a DWI in his home state of Texas for the second time in 2022.

Romero, 26, immediately comes off the Nationals’ 40-man roster, opening a spot for them to protect another minor leaguer subject to this year’s Rule 5 draft one day before Major League Baseball requires all teams to make such transactions. The Nats now have two openings on the 40-man roster, with the possibility of more to come before 6 p.m. Tuesday.

A first-round pick in the 2017 draft, Romero’s career has been an unquestionable bust, both because of injuries he sustained on the field and his actions off it. The Nationals knew they were taking a risk using the 25th overall pick on the talented-but-troubled lefty, who had been suspended multiple times at the University of Houston and ultimately was kicked off the team. They nonetheless gave him an above-slot $2.8 million signing bonus.

Romero did little to restore his reputation at the outset of his professional career, getting sent home from his first spring training camp for violating team policy. He missed the entire 2019 season following Tommy John surgery on his elbow, returned to make his major league debut late in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season but appeared in only three games before going back on the injured list after breaking his non-pitching hand upon slipping on a stairway.

Romero never returned to the big leagues after that, spending the 2021 and 2022 seasons bouncing between minor league affiliates and the 60-day IL with a calf strain. All told, he pitched only 100 1/3 professional innings for the Nationals, all but 2 2/3 of those in the minors, with only one appearance above Double-A.

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Looking at the Nats' organizational depth chart


As we wait for the Nationals to put their offseason plan – whatever that plan ends up being – into action, it’s probably instructive to take stock of what they already have in place.

The organizational depth chart looks a whole lot different today than it did one year ago, and it basically bears zero resemblance to the one that existed two years ago. Consider this: Only 22 players who were on the 40-man roster on Opening Day are still on the 40-man roster. And out of that group, only 10 were on the 40-man roster on Opening Day 2021.

That’s a lot of change.

So, what’s left? A roster that has more young talent than it did a year ago, though most of it has yet to reach the big leagues. And plenty of holes that still need to be filled.

As you can see when you break the depth chart down position by position, the Nationals still have some work to do, both when it comes to short-term and long-term roster construction. (Note: Players not currently on the 40-man roster have an asterisk after their names.) …

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