Jeimer Candelario is headed back to Chicago. The Cubs announced they acquired the switch-hitting third baseman from the Nationals for prospects DJ Herz and Kevin Made. The Cubs had an open 40-man roster spot after outrighting Edwin Ríos yesterday.
Candelario was one of the best rental hitters on the market after a strong four months in Washington. It was exactly what the Nats had envisioned when signing him to a one-year, $5MM free agent contract last winter.
Originally signed by the Cubs as an amateur more than a decade ago, Candelario made his big league debut with Chicago. His first stint on the North Side was short-lived. He played in five games in 2016 and 11 more the following season before being dealt to the Tigers in the Justin Wilson trade, as the Cubs pushed in young talent for veterans while trying to defend their World Series title.
Candelario got his first extended run down the stretch in Detroit and was an everyday player by the following season. He was a below-average regular for the first two years but took a significant step forward in 2020. Candelario carried that over a full schedule the following season, when he led the majors in doubles. Between those two seasons, he hit .278/.356/.458 in more than 800 trips to the plate.
As was the case for essentially everyone in the Detroit lineup, things fell apart in 2022. Candelario slumped to a .217/.272/.361 line over 124 games. The Tigers non-tendered him in lieu of paying around $7MM for his final season of arbitration eligibility. While it’s a move Detroit probably wishes they had back in hindsight, the subsequent $5MM free agent deal indicates the market didn’t value Candelario as a $7MM player just a few months ago.
The 29-year-old has certainly elevated his stock since that point. He has more or less regained his 2020-21 form. Candelario hit .258/.342/.481 through 419 plate appearances with Washington. He connected on 16 homers and 30 doubles, ranking fifth in the majors in the latter category. He’s walking at a roughly average 8.6% clip against a decent 21% strikeout rate.
Candelario has been better from the left side of the plate this season, a departure from his early-career work. He’d typically fared better against southpaws but now has similar platoon splits overall. Since the start of 2020, he’s a .253/.334/.438 hitter against right-handed pitching and owns a .256/.330/.437 line versus lefties. That well-rounded offensive production adds to a Chicago lineup built mostly on strong depth as opposed to impact talent aside from Cody Bellinger.
While his profile has mostly been built on offense, Candelario has also gotten solid reviews from public metrics for his third base defense this year. Defensive Runs Saved has pegged him two runs above par in 834 1/3 innings of hot corner work, while Statcast has estimated him as four runs above average. Candelario had gotten mixed to below-average marks throughout his time in Detroit but should at least be a solid gloveman in Chicago.
He has some experience at first base as well but hasn’t played anywhere aside from third since 2020. The Cubs could plug him in at either spot but will presumably use him more often at the hot corner. Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom, Christopher Morel and Miles Mastrobuoni have been part of a revolving door at the position. Morel has raked but isn’t a good defender. Wisdom hits for power but doesn’t consistently put the ball in play; Madrigal has the opposite profile. Candelario is the most balanced of the group.
It’s a modest financial addition for Chicago. Candelario is due around $1.67MM in salary through year’s end. He’d tack on another $200K in incentives if he reaches 600 plate appearances, though that’s also fairly modest. As calculated by Roster Resource, the Cubs have a luxury tax number a bit north of $228MM.
That’s a little less than $5MM shy of the $233MM base threshold. It had seemed the Cubs were trending towards staying below that mark and selling away veteran pieces, but a recent eight-game win streak completely changed the calculus. The addition of one of the top rental hitters available affirms their status as buyers, which had already become clear when they took Bellinger off the trade market yesterday. They also added some middle relief depth tonight in acquiring José Cuas from Kansas City and figure to look for more impactful bullpen upgrades in the next 24 hours.
Candelario’s time in Washington proved fruitful for both parties. He revitalized his stock and now looks positioned for a much more lucrative free agent trip. He’ll be one of the top hitters available in a below-average class for bats. The Nats never seemed likely to issue him a qualifying offer, but the trade officially takes that off the table. Players dealt midseason are ineligible for the QO, so Candelario will hit the market unencumbered by draft compensation.
The club adds a pair of players to a continually improving farm system. Made, 20, is a right-handed hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic. He didn’t appear on Chicago’s midseason top 30 prospects at Baseball America but ranked 19th on the organizational list at FanGraphs. The outlet credited the 5’9″ infielder with roughly average tools and suggested he has an outside shot to be an everyday shortstop. He’s hitting .240/.328/.355 over 300 plate appearances with High-A South Bend. He hit just three homers there but walked at a solid 10% clip against a lower than average 18% strikeout rate.
Herz, 22, has gotten 14 starts with Double-A Tennessee. The former eighth-round pick owns a 3.97 ERA across 59 innings, striking out an excellent 30.4% of opponents but walking 14% of batters faced. He was 19th among Cubs’ prospects at Baseball America and 22nd at FanGraphs. He sits in the low 90s with his fastball and has an excellent changeup, but the obvious control woes lead most evaluators to point to a bullpen future. There’s little harm for the Nats in letting him continue to start in the minors. Herz and Made will have to go on the 40-man roster this offseason to stay out of the Rule 5 draft.
It’s the first of likely multiple deadline deals for the rebuilding Nats. Candelario was their most obvious trade chip. Middle reliever Kyle Finnegan could be on the move as well. Washinton’s top realistic trade piece would be outfielder Lane Thomas, though it remains to be seen how eager they are to deal him.
Michael Cerami and David Kaplan of Bleacher Nation reported the Cubs and Nationals were in discussions about Candelario. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic first reported Candelario was being traded to Chicago. Cerami was first with Herz and Made going back to Washington.
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