The Nationals announced that they have avoided arbitration with Victor Robles by agreeing to a one-year contract for 2023 plus a club option for 2024. The financial terms were not disclosed, but this will give the club cost certainty for the second of his three arbitration years and an option for his third. This deal won’t alter the club’s length of control over his services. Even if they were to turn down the option for 2024, they could still retain Robles by going through the arbitration process again next offseason.
Robles, 26 in May, was once one of the top prospects in the league, with Baseball America ranking him as high as #5 in 2018. He got his first extended stretch of major league playing time in 2019, hitting 17 home runs on the way to a .255/.326/.419 batting line. Since that was the “juiced ball” season where offense was up all around the league, that production actually led to a wRC+ of just 92, indicating he was 8% below league average at the plate. Nonetheless, he stole 28 bases and was given strong grades for his glovework, leading to a tally of 3.5 wins above replacement in the eyes of FanGraphs.
That was just his age-22 season and it seemed fair to expect even better days ahead. Unfortunately, his offense has taken a big step backward since that time. In the past three seasons, Robles has hit just .216/.291/.306 for a wRC+ of 66. He has still been graded well in the field and swiped 27 bags in that time, but the lack of offense has subtracted any value created in other areas, with FanGraphs ranking his work in that stretch as exactly replacement level.
Robles qualified for arbitration for the first time a year ago and earned a salary of $1.65MM in 2022. For his second trip through the process, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Robles for a raise to $2.5MM. He and the club didn’t agree to a 2023 salary prior to the filing deadline in January, with Robles submitting a $2.6MM figure and the club at $2.3MM. Instead of going to a hearing for that small gap, they have now agreed to a deal, though the details still haven’t emerged.
The Nats have leaned hard into a rebuild over the past couple of seasons, trading away just about every established player of value, including Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Juan Soto and more. Robles has stuck around, likely because his extended run of poor performance has burned up any trade value he once had. But for the Nats, there’s little harm in continuing to run him out there and hoping for a bounceback.
Robles could potentially be the club’s everyday center fielder this year, though it remains to be seen how much leeway he’ll get if his offense doesn’t improve. Lane Thomas will likely be next to him in a corner role but has the potential to play up the middle. Other options for the outfield spots include Corey Dickerson, Joey Meneses, Alex Call and Stone Garrett. This deal now closes the book on the club’s arbitration class, as Robles was the last one without a deal worked out for this season.