Candelario relishes opportunity to reunite with Martinez

The baseball world is like a circle. Sooner or later, you come back around to work with someone you know from your past.

The Nationals have taken this approach while filling roster holes: Bringing back bounce back candidates who used to play on the team or have a connection to someone already on the staff from a past gig.

Jeimer Candelario is the latest example, reuniting with manager Davey Martinez from their time with the Cubs after the third baseman signed a one-year, $5 million contract three weeks ago. Candelario spent parts of the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the Cubs while Martinez served as then-manager Joe Maddon’s bench coach.

Candelario relishes the opportunity to reunite with Martinez, now the head man in Washington who had a big impact on the 22-year-old infielder’s development on the North Side of Chicago.

“It means a lot, it means a lot, because in 2016, we were champs,” Candelario said last week during an introductory Zoom session with Nationals reporters. “I was not on the team, but I was in the (organization). And I came up that year. It was a special, special team. Really good coaching staff and he was part of it. He was a really good part of that team.”

The Cubs, of course, went on to win the World Series and end their 108-year championship drought. Though Candelario only appeared in five games that season and 11 the next before he was traded to the Tigers, his short time with Martinez clearly made a strong impression.

“When I got to the big leagues, he gave me a lot of confidence,” Candelario said of Martinez. “He talked a lot with me, and being there now in Washington, being the leader and the manager of the team, it just brings me more confidence.”

Candelario went on to establish himself as an everyday major leaguer over the next six years in Detroit. He hit a career-high 19 home runs with 54 RBIs and 2.2 WAR, per FanGraphs, in 2018, his first full season with the Tigers. He slashed .297/.369/.503 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. And then he led the majors with 42 doubles while hitting .271 with 16 homers and 3.9 fWAR in 2021.

But his production took a dip in 2022, slashing only .217/.272/.361 with 19 doubles, 13 homers and 50 RBIs in 124 games, which led to the Tigers non-tendering him last month. At least his defensive production remained steady, ranking ninth among qualified third basemen in defensive runs saved.

His track record suggests he can bounce back to an above average major league ballplayer, something Martinez mentioned two weeks ago at the Winter Meetings in San Diego.

“Right now, this is a big opportunity for me, playing every single day at third base,” Candelario said. “And there's a big opportunity for me, and I know what I can do. And with Davey Martinez there, he's a really good leader. And I’ve known him since my first year in the big leagues, and going from there, like I said.”

Maybe all Candelario needs is some familiarity to get back to the level of production he produced over those three seasons in Detroit. Martinez’s infectious positivity couldn’t hurt either.

“Go there and have some fun like he always said and dominate like I know (I can),” Candelario said.

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