Can Edwards duplicate impressive bullpen work in 2023?


Age on opening day 2023: 31

How acquired: Signed as minor league free agent, February 2022

MLB service time: 5 years, 169 days

2022 salary: $700,000

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2024

2022 stats: 6-3, 2.76 ERA, 57 G, 2 SV, 62 IP, 51 H, 22 R, 19 ER, 8 HR, 29 BB, 56 SO, 1 HBP, 1.226 WHIP, 142 ERA+, 4.24 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, 1.3 bWAR

Quotable: “We knew if he’s healthy, he’s got a good mix of pitches and that he can help us. We started out with him very slow, and now he’s earned his way to pitching in the back end of the bullpen, even putting him in to close a game or two. Knowing that we get to have him back next year, and that he’s going to be a big part of our bullpen next year, is huge.” – Davey Martinez

2022 analysis: Signed to a minor league deal shortly before camp opened, Carl Edwards Jr. opened the season at Triple-A Rochester, with an opportunity to be called up at some point along the way if his performance merited it. One month and one run allowed in 14 1/3 minor league innings later, he clearly merited the promotion.

Edwards’ May 10 debut with the Nationals, though, was a dud. Entrusted with a two-run lead in the sixth, he promptly gave up three runs and wound up taking the loss to the Mets. He vowed not to let that happen again, and he was true to his word: He tossed 15 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings following that ugly debut.

As the season progressed and Nats bullpen roles shook out, Edwards found himself as one of Martinez’s most trusted late-inning arms. He typically pitched the eighth inning, setting up Kyle Finnegan, and managed to maintain an ERA between 2.64 and 3.46 throughout the season’s second half.

2023 outlook: Though he’s been around since 2015 with the Cubs, Edwards didn’t have quite enough major league service time at season’s end to qualify for free agency. So he remains under the Nationals’ control, due to make a projected $1.6 million in arbitration according to MLB Trade Rumors. That means there’s every reason to believe he’ll be back in 2023 as one of several returning late-inning arms, headlined by Finnegan and Hunter Harvey.

Given his struggles from 2019-21 (7.90 ERA, 1.537 WHIP in 34 games with five different clubs), there’s definitely reason to worry Edwards won’t be able to sustain his 2022 success. But there were signs this year to suggest he did turn a significant corner and can remain an effective reliever in 2023.

Most notably, Edwards was healthy throughout the entire season, as healthy as he had been since he produced a 2.60 ERA in 58 games for the Cubs in 2018. Additionally, he showed he could be effective not only against right-handed hitters (.673 OPS) but also lefties (.628 OPS) after struggling against them the last three seasons. He accomplished that by incorporating a changeup this season that led to only one extra-base hit. That pitch helped Edwards increase his groundball rate to 48.3 percent, his highest since 2016.

Is there inherently a risk with any reliever trying to duplicate an unexpectedly successful season? Of course. But the Nationals have ample reason to believe Edwards can do it again and help solidify what surprisingly became the strongest unit of their roster in 2022.

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