After joining Nats at deadline, Herz flashed impressive stuff

DJ Herz Harrisburg


Age on opening day 2024: 23

How acquired: Traded with Kevin Made from Cubs for Jeimer Candelario and cash in July 2023; originally drafted in eighth round by Cubs in 2019 from Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville, N.C.

Ranking: No. 16 per MLB Pipeline, No. 25 per Baseball America

MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

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Smith, Abbott, Machado cut; four pitchers added to 40-man roster

Dominic Smith gray

The Nationals chose to protect four prospects, all pitchers, from being lost in the upcoming Rule 5 draft. To do so, they cut ties with three players who ended the season on their major league roster, most notably first baseman Dominic Smith.

Smith and right-hander Cory Abbott were both designated for assignment today, with reliever Andrés Machado granted his unconditional release as well to pursue opportunities in Japan. The team then used those three open slots, plus one that already was open, to add left-handers DJ Herz and Mitchell Parker, plus right-handers Cole Henry and Zach Brzykcy, to their 40-man roster. That ensures none of those four prospects can be lost in next month’s Rule 5 draft.

The decision to drop Smith came as the biggest surprise of the day, considering the manner in which club officials spoke up the first baseman’s defensive value and clubhouse leadership this season in spite of his offensive struggles. Signed for $2 million last winter after the Mets chose not to tender him a contract, Smith hit .254/.326/.366 with 12 homers, 46 RBIs and a .692 OPS in 153 games for the Nats. Six of his 12 homers came in September alone, leaving the 28-year-old with some hope he had solved the power woes he endured for the majority of the season.

Even with those woes at the plate, Smith was lauded for his glove work at first base, where he produced five Defensive Runs Saved and was a calming influence for young infielders CJ Abrams, Luis García and Carter Kieboom.

Smith was eligible for arbitration and was projected to make roughly $4 million through that process. Now, the Nationals will be in the market for a new first baseman for the second straight offseason, likely prioritizing power from that corner position to help bolster a lineup that hit a National League-worst 151 homers this year. They could also move Joey Meneses full-time to first base and seek a new designated hitter.

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Roster moves coming on Rule 5 draft deadline day

Alex Call blue jersey

There are two significant roster-related deadline days across baseball this week. On Friday, all teams must tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, with the possibility looming that some could be non-tendered. But before we get to that, today all teams must decide which of their prospects they want to add to their 40-man rosters in order to protect them from being lost in the Rule 5 draft.

This is a day that usually didn’t garner much attention from the Nationals’ perspective when they were consistent contenders and basically sat out the Rule 5 draft for a decade. But it became important again last year, both because they owned (and used) the No. 1 pick in the draft and because they had a high number of prospects they wanted to protect, forcing them to part ways with several big leaguers.

A refresher course, for those who don’t remember how this works: The Rule 5 draft gives teams the opportunity to select unprotected minor leaguers away from other clubs for $100,000, with one critical caveat: Any player selected must remain on the major league roster the entire season (90 days on the active roster) or else be offered back to the original club.

The Nats, who hadn’t selected a Rule 5 player since 2010, finally got back in the game last year by taking Thaddeus Ward with the first overall pick. The right-hander missed several months with a shoulder injury but met the required standard by staying on the active roster enough to remain with the organization, which can now option him to Triple-A if it wants.

The Nationals did not, however, have anyone selected away from them in last year’s Rule 5 draft, evidence perhaps of some smart decisions they made to protect certain players and perhaps of the lack of big-league-ready talent further down the organizational depth chart.

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Nats trade Candelario to Cubs for two prospects

Jeimer Candelario blue

When the Nationals lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Brewers was published and Jeimer Candelario’s name wasn’t included, all eyes in the home clubhouse immediately turned toward the third baseman’s locker. Candelario, for the record, was there, in his usual Nats gear, preparing for batting practice.

Three hours later, he was no longer a National.

The Nats finalized a trade with the Cubs shortly before tonight’s game that will send Candelario back to the organization he began his career with, receiving two prospects in return, the club announced.

Kevin Made, a 20-year-old shortstop who was the Cubs’ 14th-ranked prospect, and DJ Herz, a 22-year-old left-hander who was their 16th-ranked prospect, will now join the Nationals organization.

Candelario was far and away the most likely Nationals player to be dealt before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. deadline. A number of teams, headlined by the Angels and Yankees, reportedly were interested in the 29-year-old, who entered the day with an .823 OPS, 30 doubles, 16 homers, 53 RBIs and 3.3 bWAR in 99 games played.

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