Nationals manager Dave Martinez spoke to members of the media at the Winter Meetings today, with Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com and Andrew Golden of The Washington Post each relaying some of the details. Notably, he said that Luis García isn’t guaranteed the second base job and that the club is looking for some left-handed power in the outfield. He also provided health updates on Victor Robles and Joey Meneses.
García, 24 in May, was a top 100 prospect on his way up to the majors but hasn’t been able to firmly establish himself at the big league level. The rebuilding Nats gave him a chance to take over the keystone last year but he was eventually optioned to the minors in August after hitting just .260/.294/.363 for a wRC+ of 74. He was recalled in September and finished strong with a line of .304/.360/.507 from that point, but in a small sample of just 75 plate appearances.
Unsurprisingly, that brief flash of better results isn’t enough to sway the club’s decision makers. His 1,245 career plate appearances have amounted to a tepid line of .265/.295/.395 and wRC+ of 85. He’s also received poor marks for his glovework at second, with career tallies of -5 Defensive Runs Saved, -16 Outs Above Average and a grade of -7.8 from Ultimate Zone Rating.
The Nats still have some faith in him, as he is still on the roster after the non-tender deadline, but it might be a make-or-break year for him. He qualified for arbitration this winter as a Super Two player and is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a salary of $2.4MM. The fact that he was tendered a contract suggests the Nats are willing to give him another shot at that price point, but he is going to be out of options next year. If he continues to struggle, he could get bumped down into a reserve role or perhaps lose his roster spot entirely. The Nats also have infielders Jeter Downs and Ildemaro Vargas on the roster or could perhaps find external additions if they decide to move on from García at some point.
Turning to the outfield, the desire to find a lefty bat in quite sensible as the current mix leans heavily to the right side. Each of Lane Thomas, Stone Garrett, Alex Call, Meneses, Robles and Jacob Young are righties. The club signed Corey Dickerson to try to balance things out last year but that didn’t go according to plan. He struggled through the first few months of the season and was released after the club couldn’t flip him at the deadline. The club also has James Wood, one of the top prospects in the league. He hits from the left side but is just 21 years and has yet to reach Triple-A. Even if he does make it the majors in 2024, having him and a veteran addition in the same lineup would hardly be a problem.
How they approach the situation this time around will obviously depend on how much they are willing to spend. Cody Bellinger is the top lefty-hitting outfielder but it would be a shock if a rebuilding club like the Nats outbid the field for his services. Another veteran on a short-term deal similar to the Dickerson signing is probably a safer bet, though the club will obviously be hoping for better results. Jung Hoo Lee has now been posted for MLB clubs but he seems to be quite popular and will require a significant multi-year deal plus a posting fee. Some other lefty-swinging outfielders in free agency include Kevin Kiermaier, Joc Pederson and Michael Brantley.
The trade market is headlined by old friend Juan Soto, but he is widely considered a rental since he already turned down a massive extension from the Nats and is set for free agency after 2024. With the state of Washington’s roster, they don’t make sense for a reunion. It would be a similar situation for someone like Alex Verdugo, who is also a year from the open market. The Cardinals would likely be open to a trade of someone like Dylan Carlson, Alec Burleson or Brendan Donovan.
As for Meneses, the club will be looking for a bounceback from him next year. He debuted with a bang in 2022, hitting 13 home runs in the final 56 games of the season. But his first full season in the bigs resulted in just 13 more homers over 154 contests, though Martinez relayed today that Meneses was battling a knee issue during the season. It’s unknown how severe this issue was or when it arose, but it is perhaps the reason for a 2mph drop in his average exit velocity relative to 2022. If getting back to health helps him reverse course, that would provide the club with a nice lineup boost regardless of external additions. In a separate tweet from Golden, Martinez says Meneses is doing agility work now and looking good, hoping to play first base and the outfield next year.
As for Robles, the news is less positive. He missed the second half of 2023 due to back spasms and Martinez relayed that Robles hasn’t played winter ball this offseason since he hasn’t yet proven himself healthy. He still has a couple of months before Spring Training gets going but it’s notable that the issue appears to be lingering. He is going into his final arbitration season before he’s set to become a free agent. Like García, he was once a top prospect that has thus far struggled to firmly establish himself in the big leagues. He currently has a career batting line of .238/.312/.360 in 1,801 plate appearances, translating to a wRC+ of 81.