New additions taking on leadership roles with Nats

The Nationals’ offseason to date has been just as expected: quiet.

There hasn’t been a lot of activity on their front with the major league roster. More additions are on the way as we get closer to the start of spring training in February, likely in the form of minor league deals with invitations to major league camp. Just like last week’s minor league deal with Matt Adams.

But general manager Mike Rizzo hasn’t been completely dormant. He signed third baseman Jeimer Candelario to a one-year, $5 million contract and right-hander Trevor Williams to a two-year, $13 million deal within the last month.

Candelario is expected to be the starting third baseman, while also filling in some at first base and as the designated hitter. Williams has been told he’s been brought in to join the starting rotation after serving more as a swing man with the Mets this year.

Both guys, however, are also expected to take on a role that may be a little foreign to them: leader. And they both mentioned they discussed it with manager Davey Martinez during their introductory press conferences with the local media over Zoom last week.

“Leadership starts doing the little things the right way,” Candelario said. “Speaking by example, doing the stuff that I'm supposed to do right now will help a lot of young guys, like Dave said. But me going there to the Nationals, you have to put myself in a great position to help the young guys and help the young guys the right way. Have to bring the energy, have to bring the mindset, 'We're winning, we're winning.' And that's my mindset.

“We need to do the right things to win. And that's what we want to do. And that's what we're going to do. So for me, just putting me in that position, I just want to be able to lead by example. Treating the guys the right way and, for sure, do my job. You have to do your job. If you want to be a leader, you have to do your job in the field and off the field. So I'm gonna put myself in a good position to help the team win, and whatever I have to do to help my teammates, I'm going to do it.”

Although he has experience over parts of seven major league seasons, Candelario just turned 29 last month. He was a young prospect coming up through the Cubs system before being traded to a young, rebuilding Tigers team, where he played the last six years.

Being a young player on a young team didn’t require much from him in terms of leadership. But he did learn how maintain a high level of energy while the team was doing not so well, something he’s going to need to do with the Nationals, too. He’s going to be the veteran guy in the clubhouse and have a lot of young players looking up to him, like he was in Detroit.

“For sure, we have to be free,” he said. “We have to be free, we have to enjoy. Especially we have to enjoy, but nobody enjoys a lot of things when you're losing. But we have to take the best out of the day. We have to be able to turn the page. We have to be able to learn how to win ballgames because that's what we build for. In the big leagues, we want to win. You just got to do little things to get us going and help us to win ballgames, like I've always said. It was a crazy year last year when I was in the Tigers. But I think if we all bring the energy that we're supposed to bring and compete every single day, a lot of good things can happen. And we just need good vibes and step in the right way, every single guy, and I think it's gonna help a lot.”

Similarly, Williams, 30, is a major league veteran of parts of seven years. He spent the first five seasons of his career with a rebuilding Pirates team, where he learned to take the ball every five days and become a big league starter from guys like Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon.

Then he spent the last 1 ½ seasons with the Mets and their veteran rotation, which included Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Chris Bassitt.

Now he’s joining a rotation in Washington that includes 23-year-old MacKenzie Gore and 24-year-olds Cade Cavalli and Josiah Gray.

“I was getting excited talking to Josh Bell about some of the kids with the Nationals,” Williams said. “And saying they got a good head on their shoulders, they're hungry to bring a championship back to D.C. So I'm looking forward to kind of watching back and seeing how they work. Everyone is different. And I've been very fortunate enough to play with a lot of great baseball players in this game. Seeing the leadership last year of, I mean you guys saw with Max, seeing how he worked, seeing how deGrom works, seeing how (Chris) Bassitt worked, and then seeing how when I came up in the big leagues with Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon and seeing how those guys lead. So just to see them, and to have guys like Craig Stammen, too, be a good leader, and what I heard of the guys from the Padres that they got in MacKenzie Gore and Abrams, seeing how hungry they are and the head on their shoulders. So I'm looking forward to seeing these guys flourish.”

For the first time in his career, like Candelario, Williams is going to be one of the older guys on his team. He understands the leadership role that is going to be naturally put on his shoulders.

If I could help in any way possible, I'm looking forward to that,” he said. “It is funny when I was looking at the roster at where I think I've turned the page and I've become the old guy. Even though I feel like I'm not too old, but I'm looking forward to taking on that role and learning something from these kids, too.”

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