As GM Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez both discussed this week at MLB’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, TN, there are obvious needs at both corner infield spots and in left field the club is looking to address this offseason.
With Dom Smith DFA’d after a season at first in D.C., and Carter Kieboom, who got another look at third base after the club traded Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline last summer, still trying to establish himself as an everyday major leaguer, the Nationals need to address both first and third base, and a power bat in left field makes sense as well after their club struggled to hit for power in 2023.
“I think it’s a concern,” Rizzo said when he spoke with reporters on Monday in Tennessee, about adding pop, “… but it’s a way to win games. It’s — power is — it’s easier to hit a three-run homer than it is to kind of string together 4-5 hits. With these elite pitchers and these elite bullpens, it’s hard to get 3-4 hits in an inning. Power is a way of scoring runs and winning games, and we’re going to — we think in the minor leagues we’re developing it. We’ve got several players that we think fit that description, and in the meantime, you saw players take jumps in their power game last year — from the year before to last year. CJ [Abrams] showed improvement in power. Lane [Thomas] showed that he’s got legitimate home run power. And I think you’ll see guys as they sprinkle them around. [Keibert] Ruiz take another step forward and Luis [García] take another step forward, and then you have to either develop it, or go find it and pay for it.”
Last winter, the Nationals signed Smith (1-year/$2M), Jeimer Candelario (1-year/$5), and also Corey Dickerson (1-year/$2.25M).
Smith was DFA’d after the season, as noted, Candelario, again, was traded to Chicago (NL), and Dickerson was released in early August.
So the club is back in the mix looking for offensive help again this winter.
“We do have some young players that are coming that I think will supply some power,” Martinez said in his own press availability on Monday.
“I think this winter we’re going to look elsewhere too to see if we can maybe fill some gaps that we need to fill. We’re in a tough situation because we want to bring — we want to get our young guys up here and we don’t want to take too many spots away from those guys when they’re ready, but yet we got to compete at the Big League level.
“So we’ll look at all avenues and all aspects and see what we can do.”
A reunion with Candelario has been out there as a possibility in hot stove chatter, and the Nationals have spoken glowingly about his time with the team, but Rizzo declined to comment on the talk this winter when asked about the rumors of interest.
“I’m not supposed to name specific free agents,” Rizzo said. “[Candelario is] a great guy. We liked him, he was great for us last year, and knowing that if you want to go after that type of player, you’re going to have to go multiple years, I think we’re prepared to do that also, in the right situation.”
[ed. note: “The possible reunion talk ended a few hours after this story went up…”]:
Rizzo addressed the decision to DFA Smith as well, and talked about their plans at first base in 2024.
“We were looking at Dom as a bounce-back player,” the GM said. “We knew defensively he was going to help our young infielders. That was a big key for it. He was a left-handed hitter. We thought he’d have a bounce-back year with his power — and also, our reports on him he was a great citizen, a great guy, and that was all true.
“I think we’re going to be aggressive again this year looking for a bat that can play the corner infield, be it third base or first base or DH or left field — a combination of all three of those. And then we’ll resort back to getting more pitching.”
Martinez too was asked where the club stands now when it comes to first base.
“Right now we got Joey [Meneses] that can play first base,” he said. “It’s kind of early, so we’re going to look at all different avenues and see. We also got an opening at third base. Kieboom has done well so far in winter ball. So we’re going to keep an eye on that.
“But there’s always room for improvement, as we all know. So I can tell you something, and you guys know this as well, [Rizzo] does not like losing. I do not like losing. So we’re going to do the best we can to fill a competitive team.”
Kieboom, 26, and the club’s 2016 1st Round pick, has struggled to establish himself in the majors, and he’s dealt with injuries as well (including Tommy John surgery in 2022), but he returned to the field this past season, and the majors late in August, and this winter he has been playing in the Mexican Winter League, which the Nats’ brass noted.
“The fact that he went and played winter ball showed me a lot,” Rizzo said.
“Because a lot of players in his situation, with his service-time, they don’t want to do that. But we thought it was important for him to do it, to catch up on at-bats that he missed over the last couple years. So that impressed me, and my reports from there is that it’s a league where you will learn how to hit the breaking ball, or you will go home. So, I think that the last look I thought he was hitting around .280 with a couple home runs and playing third and second base. I think that’s all positive factors for him going into Spring Training.”
So is the club likely to find their answer at third internally or externally?
“Oh, we’ll explore it externally for sure,” Rizzo said. “The players we’re going to bring into camp, Kieboom included, they’re going to have to win the position. A key term we’re going to use in Spring Training this year is ‘competition.’ We’re going to have competition at several positions if not all the positions, and we’re going to bring our best 26 north and try to win as many games as we can. We’re also cognizant into developing our young players into taking the next step forward in their progress.”
Juan Yepez, 1B, agrees to deal with Nats. Minor league deal.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 6, 2023