Dickerson out to prove he can still play

Corey Dickerson is the latest veteran to sign with the Nationals. And he brings the most experience.

While Jeimer Candelario (29 years old), Trevor Williams (30) and Dominic Smith (27) have played seven, seven and six major league seasons, respectively, Dickerson, 33, is entering his 11th season in the bigs, now with his eighth different club.

Unlike the Nats’ other three major league signings this offseason, Dickerson isn’t looking to kickstart his career for the long run with a fresh start on a new team. He’s more out to show that he can still play.

A former All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner, Dickerson, who has spent time with the Rockies, Rays, Pirates, Phillies, Marlins, Blue Jays and Cardinals, says he still has something to prove to the baseball world.

“That I'm a good baseball player,” Dickerson said when asked what he wants to prove this year. He spoke via Zoom with reporters after signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Nats on Tuesday. “That I can do more than just one thing. I think I can still hit for power. A lot of people have written me off with that. … I still think I can hit for power, I can do many things well.”

Earlier in his career, the left-handed hitter displayed some significant pop at the plate. Over a four-season period between 2014-17, split evenly between the Rockies and Rays, he hit at least 24 home runs three times, topping out at 27 in 2017. He only managed 10 longballs in 2015, when he was limited to 65 games due to two broken ribs.

His first full stint in the majors in 2014 remains the best campaign of his career. He posted a career-best slash line of .312/.364/.567 with a .931 OPS, 76 RBIs and an OPS+ of 141.

Dickerson’s numbers have significantly dropped off over the last three seasons between Miami, Toronto and St. Louis. Collectively, he slashed .266/.313/.403 with a .717 OPS, 19 homers and 82 RBIs over 257 games. He played 52 games in the pandemic-shortened 60-game season in 2020, 109 between the Marlins and Blue Jays in 2021, and 96 last year with the Cardinals.

Now Dickerson, who turns 34 in May, is with the Nationals trying to show he can get back to being a productive ballplayer. He figures to be the starting left fielder and rotating designated hitter this year, mostly against right-handed pitching (he’s a career .287 hitter against righties while only batting .259 against lefties).

He’ll likely bat in the middle of the lineup, having hit mostly fifth or sixth in his career. But he also has a lot of experience leading off and batting second, the two spots in the order where he next has hit the most.

Wherever Dickerson plays, he’s out to compete and show that he still belongs in the bigs.

“I always say there's a reason why I'm still here,” he said. “There's a reason why I still have an opportunity. It's just because I love to compete. When I get out there and compete, it tends to just work out. So I want to play the field every single day, every opportunity I get. I love that, I enjoy that. Continue my daily preparation trying to get better at that. But whatever the team needs is the role you have to be ready to play. So I'm just going to prepare myself the best way possible and try to enjoy the moment.”

Not many teams would take a chance on a reeling 33-year-old whose offensive production and defensive metrics have dipped over the last half of his career. But the rebuilding Nationals did, seemingly solidifying their lineup.

Now Dickerson wants to reward them by bringing an underdog mentality and edge to this young team that is still searching for an identity.

“I always feed off negative emotion,” Dickerson said. “I've always been an underdog, I've always had that chip on my shoulder. That's the way I play. And I feel like I kind of lost that chip for the last couple of years trying to please and mold to people's needs a little bit. And this year, I'm going to try to definitely help my teammates, but really put that chip back on my shoulder and be able to play with the emotion I need to.”

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