This offseason is already a nice change of pace from the previous two winters. It’s not even December yet and the hot stove is already heating up.
The Nationals made their first major league signings yesterday, announcing a one-year deal with veteran third baseman Jeimer Candelario and a major league deal with outfielder Stone Garrett. Both will compete for starting spots come spring training.
The Tigers non-tendered the 29-year-old, switch-hitting Candelario at the deadline a few weeks ago after a disappointing 2022 season in which he hit only .217 with a .633 OPS and -0.1 WAR by FanGraphs' reckoning.
But Candelario has a longer track record of success, particularly in the 2018, 2020 and 2021 seasons. He tied for the major league lead with 42 doubles and produced 3.9 WAR two seasons ago and hit a career-high 19 home runs to go along with 2.2 WAR in 2018, his first full season in Detroit.
Assuming he reverts back to a former version of himself, Candelario should be a solid pickup for this rebuilding Nats team. He brings seven years of major league experience and will reportedly make a $5 million base salary in 2023, with another $1 million in incentives. He was projected to make $7 million in arbitration before being non-tendered, per MLB Trade Rumors, so he’s coming at a low cost.
Adding to his value is his versatility. While mostly a third baseman in his big league career, he has played 61 games at first base, including 42 during the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020.
The Nationals have been targeting players with the ability to play multiple positions during the early stages of this rebuild. Ildemaro Vargas, who is expected to compete with Candelario for the third base job along with Carter Kieboom, has experience all over the infield (and even some in the outfield) over his six-year major league career. Joey Meneses is a true first baseman but also saw time in the corner outfield spots when he was finally called to the majors last year. Even catcher Riley Adams is trying to add the ability to play first base to expand his own versatility.
Candelario also has experience as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter off the bench, which will come in handy, especially as he's a switch-hitter. He has more plate appearances as a left-handed hitter over his career, but has hit .270 as a right-hander versus just .230 as a lefty.
This versatility will help manager Davey Martinez be more flexible and creative, both in the field and at the plate, while setting his lineups.
Along with minor league contracts that are accompanied by invitations to major league spring training and big league deals for players with a lot of years remaining under team control, this is exactly the type of deal we should expect to see from general manager Mike Rizzo this offseason: A relatively low-cost agreement with an experienced player who can play multiple positions.
Maybe Candelario plays well enough during the season’s first half to warrant a trade at the deadline. The Nats could always use more prospects at this point in the rebuild. But at the very least, he’ll be an everyday player filling a variety of roles, if not routinely third base.
And with the $5 million price tag, he is likely to play every day and probably will be the Opening Day third baseman, barring some unforeseen changes.
Even if he strictly plays third base, Candelario’s signing shows that versatility is still part of the name of the Nats’ roster game.
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