The Washington Nationals made their first big splash of the offseason Tuesday by inking third baseman Jeimer Candelario to a one-year contract.
The Nationals and the 29-year-old former Detroit Tiger agreed to a reported $5 million deal with an additional $1 million in incentives.
Candelario, a seven-year veteran, is coming off arguably the worst season of his big league career. But the 29-year-old has multiple solid seasons under his belt, including a 2021 campaign in which he smacked 42 doubles.
The signing is the first major league deal that general manager Mike Rizzo has handed out to a new player this offseason. It’s expected to be a slow offseason for the Nationals for multiple reasons. The organization is in the middle of its rebuild — evidenced by the trade of Juan Soto at the deadline in August that returned a handful of top prospects to Washington. It doesn’t make sense to sink more money into a roster that likely can’t compete, especially in the NL East with the Mets and the Braves.
The uncertain ownership situation could also be a reason why the Candelario signing could likely be one of the only significant deals the Nationals will hand out this winter.
In 606 career games across seven seasons with the Cubs and Tigers, Candelario is a .240 hitter. His OPS+ — a metric that adjusts a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage to a league-average scale — is 98, which is just two percent below average.
This past season with Detroit, Candelario hit just .217 with a .272 on-base percentage and 13 home runs in 124 games. The dreadful campaign followed back-to-back solid seasons with the Tigers.
In the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, the switch-hitter posted a career-high .297 with a .503 slugging percentage. He followed that up by leading the American League with 42 doubles in 2021 with a .271 average and 16 long balls. His 3.8 wins above replacement on Baseball-Reference was third-best among all third basemen in 2021, behind only superstars Jose Ramirez and Manny Machado.
He was projected to make $5.8 million from his final year of arbitration, but the Tigers non-tendered him earlier this month to make him a free agent.
At this stage of the Nationals’ reboot, it’s unlikely that they’d sign someone for $5 million to sit on the bench. Candelario will likely be in the starting lineup for Dave Martinez on opening day — either at third base, first base or designated hitter.
Candelario has played 517 of his 581 games at third base, adding 64 at first base and 19 at DH, with a career negative 19 defensive runs saved at the hot corner.
The Nationals have a few other options outside of Candelario at third base, including former top prospect Carter Kieboom, who missed the entire 2022 season after Tommy John surgery, and Ildemaro Vargas, who played well late in the season after joining the team.
Washington could have a hole at first base after non-tendering Luke Voit, who the Nationals got back in the Soto trade, if the team decides to play Joey Meneses in the outfield. The DH spot is also vacant after the team declined the mutual option on Nelson Cruz’s contract following his disappointing campaign.
The Nationals also announced Tuesday that they signed outfielder Stone Garrett to a major-league deal. Garrett, 27, still has six years of team control left and is coming off a solid, albeit brief, campaign with the Diamondbacks. Garrett hit .276 with eight doubles, four home runs and three stolen bases in 27 games with Arizona last season — his first in the big leagues.