The Nationals have agreed to a contract with Ildemaro Vargas for the 2024 season, the team announced this afternoon. Financial details of the contract have not yet been made available. The deal will offer Vargas, who was set to be arbitration eligible this offseason, some security regarding his place in the organization headed into next season.
In exchange for guaranteeing Vargas his 2024 salary and, presumably, spot on the club’s 40-man roster throughout the offseason, the Nationals are getting cost certainty on a veteran infielder who’s proven to be a valuable bench piece during his time in Washington. After kicking off his big league career back in 2015, Vargas spent time with the Cubs, Pirates, Twins, and briefly returned to Arizona before landing in D.C. partway through the 2022 campaign.
Since arriving in the U.S. capitol, Vargas sports a .261/.304/.375 slash line that’s been good for a wRC+ of 90 while boasting a strikeout rate well below 10%. His high-contract, switch-hitting bat offers additional value off the bench thanks to his positional versatility. Vargas has played all four infield positions during his major league career in addition to left field. For a young Nationals club that has little infield depth behind CJ Abrams and Luis Garcia, retaining Vargas gives the club some insurance as they head into a critical offseason with plenty of top prospects on the horizon as soon as this time next year.
Of course, that Vargas figures to remain on the roster headed into 2024 doesn’t mean he figures to continue as the club’s starting third baseman, a role he assumed after Jeimer Candelario was shipped to the north side of Chicago for two prospects. While the pending free agent class isn’t exactly robust in terms of hitters, the coming group at the hot corner includes a handful of interesting veterans like Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Brian Anderson who could turn to the Nationals as an opportunity to draw regular starts in the majors as Candelario did this past offseason.
Vargas signing could also have an impact on fellow arbitration-eligible bench pieces like Michael Chavis and Dominic Smith. Both players are due for raises headed into the 2024 campaign, and could be feasible non-tender candidates for a club that already has Vargas’s veteran infield presence locked into next season’s bench group. Vargas’s return could also impact the opportunities afforded to players like Carter Kieboom and Jeter Downs who have yet to establish themselves in the big leagues.