In conjunction with this review, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk will be holding a Nationals-centric live chat later today to further discuss the team’s offseason. Click here to submit questions in advance.
With a focus on inexpensive, short-term veteran contracts this offseason, the Nationals are still aiming for the future as the team continues its rebuild.
Major League Signings
- Trevor Williams, SP/RP: Two years, $13MM
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B: One year, $5MM
- Corey Dickerson, OF: One year, $2.25MM
- Dominic Smith, 1B/OF: One year, $2MM
- Erasmo Ramirez, SP/RP: One year, $1MM
- Stone Garrett, OF: One year contract
2023 spending: approximately $16.25MM
Total spending: approximately $23.25MM
- Nelson Cruz, DH: Nationals declined their side of $16MM mutual option for 2023 ($3MM buyout)
Trades & Claims
- Claimed IF Jeter Downs off waivers from Red Sox
- Claimed RP A.J. Alexy off waivers from Rangers (later traded to Twins)
- Acquired minor league P Cristian Jimenez from Twins for RP A.J. Alexy
- Selected RHP Thad Ward from Red Sox in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Sean Doolittle, Alex Colome, Wily Peralta, Matt Adams, Chad Kuhl, Anthony Castro, Michael Chavis, Anthony Banda, Derek Hill, Francisco Perez, Tommy Romero, Franklin Barreto, Erick Mejia, Travis Blankenhorn
- Victor Robles, OF: One year, $2.325MM (Nationals hold $3.3MM club option for 2024; if option is declined, Nats still hold arbitration control over Robles for 2024)
- Cruz, Cesar Hernandez, Luke Voit, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, Steve Cishek (retired)
Ted Lerner, the Nationals’ first official owner after its move to Washington, passed away in February at age 97. Though Mark Lerner (Ted’s son) has been in control of the franchise since 2018, the sad news of the Lerner family patriarch’s passing seemed to represent something of a symbolic end of an era for the Nationals as ownership questions continue to circle the organization. It has been almost a year since the Lerner family started to explore the possibility of selling the ballclub, yet even though Ted Leonsis had seemingly emerged as the favorite, it remains to be seen if Leonsis or anyone will up finalizing a deal due to the still-unsettled dispute between the Nationals and Orioles over MASN broadcast rights.
The uncertainty at the ownership level is matched in the front office and in the dugout, since president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez are only under contract through the 2023 season. And, as the Nationals enter the second full season of an all-out rebuild, it remains to seen if any of the club’s current young talents will break out and be part of the proverbial “next contending Nats team.”
To this end, Washington will give CJ Abrams, Luis Garcia, and Keibert Ruiz full runs as everyday players this season. Lane Thomas, Alex Call, and Victor Robles are a bit older than those youngsters and Call was a rookie himself in 2022, but the three outfielders will get another opportunity to be lineup regulars. (For Robles, this may be something of a last chance after three underwhelming years at the plate, though Robles had an excellent defensive season in 2022.) The 30-year-old Joey Meneses is the relative greybeard of the group, and yet the Nationals will certainly give Meneses lots of playing time as the team evaluates just exactly what they have in a player coming off an unexpectedly dominant rookie season.
Meneses will be moved around the lineup as a first baseman, DH, and corner outfielder in 2023, and with Meneses providing pop with his right-handed bat, Washington brought a couple of lefty swingers to town as complements. Corey Dickerson and Dominic Smith also figure to get their share of DH at-bats, with Dickerson also seeing time as a left fielder and Smith likely to play first base, though Smith also has a good deal of experience in left field.
Dickerson has a below-average 97 wRC+ over the last three seasons, hitting .266/.313/.403 in 872 plate appearances since the start of the 2020 season. Beyond just the league-wide interruptions caused by the pandemic and the lockout in that time period, Dickerson also had to deal with injuries and some personal tragedy, so the veteran is certainly hoping to focus solely on baseball as he enters his age-34 season. Washington is likely to use Dickerson almost exclusively against right-handed pitching, given how his numbers and playing time against southpaws have diminished in recent years.
In Smith, the Nationals hope they’ve found a bounce-back candidate who might be particularly motivated to produce for another NL East team. Smith’s decade in the Mets organization was marked by a lot of tumult, as he faced trade rumors, questions about his conditioning, reduced playing time, defensive struggles as a left fielder (a position change forced by Pete Alonso’s emergence as the Mets’ next star first baseman), and finally a non-tender last November.
Still, Smith also delivered some production at the MLB level, with an impressive .299/.366/.571 slash line over 396 PA during the 2019-20 seasons. Away from the New York drama and into regular playing time with a rebuilding team out of the spotlight, perhaps Smith can rebound with a change of scenery. D.C. isn’t the only team that shares this belief, as the Royals, Rays, Cubs, and Padres all reportedly had some level of interest before he finally signed with Washington.
Ex-star prospects like Smith were a target area for Rizzo this winter, as the Nationals also added such former top-100 names as Michael Chavis, Franklin Barreto, and Anthony Banda on minor league contracts, while Jeter Downs was claimed off waivers from the Red Sox. Getting a late-bloomer breakout from any of these players would count as a big win for the Nats’ rebuild, and there’s no real risk involved for Washington in taking a look at these players for minimal acquisition costs.
Jeimer Candelario is perhaps the only one of the Nationals’ veteran signings who is somewhat blocking one of the District’s young talents, yet Carter Kieboom is just starting to work as a DH in Spring Training as he continues to recover from the Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2022 season. With Kieboom’s ability to play third base up in the air, the Nationals moved quickly to sign Candelario soon after he entered the open market in November.
Candelario is another player with some very recent success under his belt, as he hit .278/.356/.458 (125 wRC+) over 832 PA in 2020-21. He led the majors with 42 doubles in 2021. However, both his slash numbers and most of his Statcast metrics fell off a cliff last season, as Candelario hit only .217/.272/.361 with 13 homers in 467 PA. Projected for a $7MM salary in his final arbitration year, Candelario was instead non-tendered by a Detroit team looking for a fresh start under new president of baseball ops Scott Harris.
While the Nats certainly needed help all over the diamond, their lineup wasn’t as big of a problem as their rotation in 2022, yet the starting five is another area where the Nationals are counting on the youngsters. Josiah Gray, Cade Cavalli, and MacKenzie Gore are all penciled in for regular turns in the rotation if healthy, with the Nationals hoping for some breakouts while being prepared to absorb more early-career growing pains from the trio.
Amidst the District’s spate of one-year contracts, Trevor Williams’ two-year, $13MM deal marked the only multi-year commitment of the offseason. The right-hander has posted some respectable numbers as both a starter and reliever over his seven Major League seasons, primarily working as a swingman over the last two years with the Mets. This flexibility could allow the Nats to eventually shift Williams to the bullpen if other rotation options solidify themselves, but he’ll work as a starter to begin the 2023 campaign.
Seth Lugo and Jordan Lyles were two other pitchers linked to the Nationals on the offseason rumor mill, and the team also brought back a familiar face in Erasmo Ramirez. but their other forays into the starting market resulted in minor league deals. Wily Peralta and Chad Kuhl provide further rotation depth or possible swingman usage, depending on what the Nationals get out of the three youngsters, Williams, and the struggling Patrick Corbin, who is looking to recover from three consecutive mediocre seasons.
Unfortunately for Stephen Strasburg, he recently suffered a setback in his recovery from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and he remains a wild card in the Nats’ plans since it isn’t certain when (or even if) he’ll be able to pitch again. With only 31 1/3 innings on Strasburg’s record since the start of the 2020 season, it would count as progress just to get the former All-Star back onto the mound at any point this year.
Erasmo Ramirez is another pitcher with swingman ability, though Washington used him almost exclusively as a reliever in 2022 (with two “starts” that were essentially opener outings). After signing a minor league deal last winter, Ramirez ended up as a nice bargain for the Nationals, as he delivered a 2.92 ERA and an elite 4.0% walk rate over 86 1/3 innings. That performance earned him a guaranteed $1MM big league contract to return to D.C., and Ramirez is likely to again be deployed in a long relief role.
Ramirez joins another familiar face in Sean Doolittle, who also re-signed with the Nats on a minor league deal as he continues to work his way back from an internal brace procedure in his left elbow. For a team that usually has something of a revolving door in the bullpen, Washington was relatively quiet on the relief pitching front this offseason, though Thad Ward (the first overall pick of the Rule 5 draft) and minor league signee Alex Colome represent some interesting additions.
Colome has been solid to excellent for most of his decade in the big leagues, apart from a rough 5.74 ERA over 47 innings with the Rockies last season. A 4.46 SIERA and a .333 BABIP provide some indication that Colome was at least a little unlucky, and a high BABIP is particularly harmful to a pitcher with a hefty 55.6% grounder rate. While Colome’s home/away splits were pretty equally mediocre last season, getting out of Coors Field might provide some help for the 34-year-old.
As per usual for any rebuilding team, any of these short-term new arrivals might find themselves on other rosters by the trade deadline. Williams and Smith (via contract and arbitration) are both controlled through 2024, yet that might not be a big impediment if they’re playing well enough for another team to make a tempting trade offer.
If Washington’s plan for the trade deadline seems pretty set, the organization can only hope that it will have more clarity on the whole by the summer — whether that translates to the futures of Rizzo and Martinez, progress on a possible sale to a new owner, or just some simple on-field progress in the rebuild. Given both the holes on the roster and the overall strength of the NL East, the Nationals will be hard-pressed to improve much on their 55-107 record from a year ago, and even avoiding a 100-loss campaign might count as a minor victory.
How would you grade the Nationals’ offseason? (poll link for app users)
Motor City Beach Bum
They have the Boston pipeline hoping either Chavis, Downs and Ward. I’m betting one or more works out.I like the Candelario signing…I was up and down about my Tigers bringing him back bit when he’s on he us a great player. Dom Smith could be interesting but I think this is his last chance to become relevant.
Ward seems like a good bet to stick with the Nats, a rare Rule 5 claim who doesn’t end up getting offered back to his original organization. Should be able to manage his innings as needed and just let him continue developing in the majors.
This has been one of the most exciting off-seasons in Nats history. There is an amazing core players that came here thanks to to selling high on Soto that if healthy can help steer the Nats into a force of the East by 2025/2026
I agree for the most part. Nats have done a fantastic job bringing in young talent w high upside- I gave them an A! Possibly most highly regarded group of prospects ever formed on a mlb roster including Dominic Smith- former top prospect in all of baseball.
That being said – there’s no guarantee this core will take a step forward (or several) to put them on the level of Braves/Phillies/Mets. That’s a stout division !
Was that a poor attempt at humor?? While they have some interesting talent, they do not even have most highly regarded farm system or prospects in their division.
Nats had the worst farm in baseball 8 months ago and are now around #10. And that’s with MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams not qualifying as prospects.
Ranking 10th is a far cry from “possibly most highly regarded group of prospects ever formed on a MLB roster” is it not?? Again they have some intriguing talent but their farm system is ranked by experts in the range of 8th-15th. Not bad but Big Whiffa way over inflated his claim.
Did I say 2023 prospects ?
Smith strasburg former #1s
Gore abrams keiboom robles former top 25
Cavelli Corbin harvey gray Ruiz downs top 100.
There are countless other teams who had tons of top prospects all time as well. Again Nats still nowhere near top.
Nats are going to bring Soto back as a free agent after 2024.
B. The Nats actually know the right way to rebuild.
That they were smart enough to snag Candelario when Harris decided to argue over $1MM is telling of how they are going about their rebuild. With Smith at 1B, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get more out of the corner IF with their cut players, than Detroit gets out of theirs.
Nats get a pass for this one. Yes, it’s not exciting, but they’re trying to do a super fast rebuild and brought in a lot of good prospects over the past year. Their offseason signings arent even that bad too. Yes they’ll finish 5th in the NL East but i’m expecting a lot of progression at the major league level this year
Looking for Stone Garrett to have a breakout year after starting nicely with Diamondbacks
F. Maybe “they had to do this” but still spending no money and no chance if competing means F.
The farm is average, maybe.
The franchise is a mess. F. No way around it.
Fyi, this is not grading rizzo.
you’d probably be pretty bad at chess
Boy am I glad you’re not a GM
@Gumbo, name 2 players they could have signed that would have caught them up to Mets, Braves, Phillies, or even Marlins. The reality is they are in a rebuild and far from contending in their division at the moment. They did exactly what they should have did this off season.
They’re rebuilding and got a lot of interesting players they didn’t have a year ago. Compare them to a similar market size team such as the Tigers who have been trash for the past decade now and have a worse farm system.
Half of their top 10 prospects (including all of their top 3) were not in the organization 8 months ago.
They essentially had two needs, which are starting pitching and offense/ big bats.
Starting Pitcher: Given that they are rebuilding, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt but they really didn’t address this. 0.5/1
Offense: This is a big hole on this team. Sure, they signed some bats but not anyone significant. Again, they’re rebuilding so I understand but they could have done a bit better. 1/2
Side note, the pen looks decent.
They really deserve a D or an F for doing next to nothing in terms of adding any established relatively strong players to bolster the team. However they may have done a decent job of bottom feeding, one of Rizzo’s specialties, with a very restricted budget under a disinterested ownership seeking to sell.
Some may argue that it this stage of their rebuild, it is pointless to spend much on quality free agents anyway, and their current approach is exactly the right thing. I can see that case but don’t really agree. As part of a season plan holding group I would prefer a couple of strong veterans to mentor the youngsters and to provide some additional entertainment along with the chance to witness the prospects develop.
They supposedly are putting more resources into their minor league system and player development program. Since they should have done this all along, it doesn’t merit a higher grade in and of itself. But because it’s Spring and I’m hopeful some of our position players and young pitchers blossom, and because they finally cut some dead wood like Fedde and have some buy-low candidates that might prosper into trading chips, I gave them a C.
Voted A to counteract all the uninformed readers who vote F just because a rebuilding team didn’t go out and make a bunch of win now moves and sign/trade for a bunch of shiny objects ala A. J. Preller.
“There’s one or two potential All Stars in there”
In the NL East the Nats are awful, in the NL Central they could probably contend. There are some interesting pieces on the roster. I hated seeing the Sox lose Thad Ward, i think if Stone Garrett gets regular playing time he may surprise people.
Meneses is the interesting one here. The question is is he a late bloomer who has finally figured it out at the MLB level, or is he Frank Schwindel 2.0?
I generally applaud teams for showing restraint and not wasting millions on average veterans who block talented younger players. But in this case I’m going the other way. I like this team a lot more than most people. If they can get anything from the starting pitchers, I think they have a chance to sneak up on people. A couple of mid tier veteran additions might have kicked this rebuild into another gear. I gave them a D for failing to be more aggressive. I know the ownership situation played a role and the division is very tough, but I think you have to be careful about accepting losing. Once you start doing that, it can be hard to turn the culture around. Look what it’s costing the Rangers.
While he didn’t come out and say it directly (because that would be collusion) Mike Rizzo strongly implied that bringing Soto back as a FA in 2 years is exactly the plan.
B-/C+. They went out and did exactly what they needed to do. Sign some low-cost/low-risk veterans they could flip at the deadline and keep potentially add more to a good farm system. Give it another year or two and they’ll be a force once again.
Solid 60 win team