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.
There’s also this juicy nugget from MLB.com’s Andrew Simon: From 2020-21, only two third basemen produced a higher WAR (by both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference’s methods) than Candelario: José Ramírez and Manny Machado.
Now, there’s no guarantee Candelario rediscovers that form. But for $5 million, it’s worth taking a shot, right?
How, exactly, does he fit into the Nationals’ plan? The easy answer would be to give him the everyday job at third base, let Ildemaro Vargas be the utility man he probably should be and move on from Carter Kieboom, who had plenty of chances to prove himself before missing the entire year following Tommy John surgery.
Candelario, though, provides some versatility himself. He can play first base, where he has rated better defensively than he has at third base. He can also serve as designated hitter, a position the Nats chose to leave open after non-tendering Luke Voit.
One way or another, Candelario is going to find his way into Martinez’s lineup. The only question is where, and how much he bounces around positions from day to day.
Garrett shouldn’t hold as prominent a role. The 27-year-old has only 27 games of big league experience, making his debut this summer for the Diamondbacks.
But he has shown an ability to hit for power, of that there’s little doubt. In each of the last two seasons, Garrett has hit at least 25 minor league home runs while driving in at least 81 runs. He posted an .833 OPS at Double-A Amarillo in 2021, then a .900 OPS at Triple-A Reno this season.
A right-handed batter, Garrett takes big swings and is prone to plenty of strikeouts, including 27 of them in only 84 major league plate appearances. But when he connects, he causes damage. And for a Nationals club that is short on outfield depth, he too is worth a look at on a league-minimum deal after Arizona designated him for assignment earlier this month.
Not excited about these moves? That’s fine. They’re not particularly exciting moves. But they are the kinds of moves a team coming off a 107-loss season with uncertain ownership should make. They are relatively low-risk additions that address specific roster needs and could pay off when it’s all said and done.
That may not satisfy those who would rather the Nationals still approach the offseason like they did from 2012-20. But it’s an appropriate start to this winter for this franchise at this particular moment in time.