What the Nats' Opening Day lineup might look like

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Though there’s still time for more additions before pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach – in a mere five weeks, by the way – the Nationals have now assembled what could be their Opening Day 2023 lineup.

They entered the offseason with three holes to fill: Third base, left field and either first base or designated hitter. In Jeimer Candelario, Corey Dickerson and Dominic Smith, they’re hoping they have adequately addressed those needs while constrained to a very tight budget. Those three free agents have a combined $9.25 million salary for the upcoming season, less than Josh Bell alone made last year.

Will that be enough? We’ll see. The success of the Nationals lineup may have less to do with those players’ performances than the performances of returning regulars Joey Meneses, Keibert Ruiz, CJ Abrams and Luis García.

But this is what Davey Martinez has to work with now. The question is how best to arrange this lineup.

Based on what Martinez did late last season, what he’s said this offseason and what’s now available to him, here’s one possible (probable?) batting order for Opening Day …

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Smith expects to be Nationals' primary first baseman

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Wearing a newly purchased, block W cherry blossom cap as he spoke to reporters via Zoom early Wednesday evening, Dominic Smith made it clear he doesn’t just expect to be a part of the 2023 Nationals. He expects to be a big part of the 2023 Nationals as their primary first baseman.

“Oh yeah, they want me to come in and play first base,” Smith said when asked if that was conveyed to him upon signing his one-year, $2 million deal this week. “And obviously just share my knowledge of the game and help some of the younger guys get over the kind of speed bumps I’ve had in my career. I think I can share my knowledge. I’m just excited for the opportunity. I know my ability and what I can do out there.”

Club officials have not spoken publicly since Smith’s contract became official, but manager Davey Martinez had indicated last month he wanted Joey Meneses to be his regular first baseman, with a focus instead on acquiring a left fielder.

Smith, though, profiles best at first base. Though he played a comparable number of games at both positions during parts of six seasons with the Mets, he rated much better at first base (minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved) than in left field (minus-11).

The 27-year-old made it sound like the promise of an everyday job at first base was a key reason for his decision to come to Washington. He believes some of his offensive struggles the last two seasons were exacerbated by his defensive struggles in the outfield. A chance to stay at his more comfortable position full-time would take a lot of weight off his shoulders, he believes.

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Nationals agree to terms with Dominic Smith

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The Washington Nationals agreed to terms on a one-year contract with first baseman Dominic Smith and designated right-handed pitcher A.J. Alexy for assignment on Wednesday. Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.

Smith, 27, hit .246 with a .308 on-base percentage and a .424 slugging percentage in 447 games across six Major League seasons with the New York Mets. He recorded 78 doubles, three triples, 46 home runs, 179 RBI, 95 walks and 147 runs scored in that time fame. Smith hit double-digit home runs in three of his last four seasons.

From 2019 through 2021, Smith slashed .269/.332/.455 while clubbing 51 doubles, one triple, 32 homers and 125 RBI in 284 games. He set or matched career marks in nearly every offensive category in 2021, including home runs (11), runs (43), hits (109), RBI (58), walks (32) and stolen bases (two).

 Smith ranked among National League hitters in doubles (2nd, 21), extra-base hits (T2nd, 32), OPS (4th, .993), slugging percentage (4th, .616), RBI (T5th, 42) and batting average (8th, .316) during the 60-game season in 2020.

Smith appeared in 58 Major League games in 2022, hitting .194 with 10 doubles, one triple, 17 RBI, 12 walks and 11 runs scored. He hit .284/.367/.472 with 11 doubles, 10 homers, 38 RBI, 25 walks, four stolen bases and 42 runs scored in 54 games with Triple-A Syracuse. 

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Once-productive Smith is worth the gamble for Nats (updated)

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In compiling a list Tuesday morning of remaining free agents the Nationals might have been looking at to play left field for them, we failed to mention the guy they actually agreed to a deal with later in the day.

Sorry, MLB Trade Rumors’ free agent page had Dominic Smith listed among the first basemen, not the left fielders.

It remains to be seen exactly how Davey Martinez intends to use Smith, who sources confirmed agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal with an additional $2 million possible in incentives. But MLB Trade Rumors’ decision to categorize him only as a first baseman might shed some important light into the matter.

Though he has played nearly the same number of games in left field (182) as first base (187) in his major league career, Smith has been considerably better at the latter position. He’s totaled minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved at first base, compared to minus-11 in left field.

It’s more instructive to look at Smith’s minor league career, where he spent the overwhelming majority of his time at first base (565 games), not in left field (22 games).

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Source: Nats signing former Met Dominic Smith

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The Nationals’ search for a left-handed bat has landed on a familiar face from the National League East: Dominic Smith.

The Nats have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the former Mets first baseman and outfielder, guaranteeing him $2 million plus incentives, a source familiar with the terms confirmed.

Smith, 27, had been a member of the Mets since 2017, producing a .246/.308/.424 slash line with 46 homers, 179 RBIs and a .733 OPS over 447 total games. He was non-tendered in November, though, after a rough 2022 season that saw him bat only .194 with zero homers over 152 plate appearances.

USA Today was first to report the signing.

The Nationals had been searching for an affordable, left-handed bat to fill a much-needed hole in their lineup, and Smith certainly fits that bill. It remains to be seen where he’s used in the field, but he could either start in left field, at first base (bumping Joey Meneses to the outfield), serve as designated hitter or be the left-handed portion of a platoon at any of those positions, depending on what manager Davey Martinez needs on a given night.

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