Nats Lukewarm Stove and Offseason Summary
The cold weather has not caused the Washington Nationals hot stove to heat up much. When getting the number 2 pick in the MLB draft lottery is one of the highlights of your off-season, that does not exactly spark the embers either.
Before exploring the off-season to date, we must start with another former Washington star playing just a bit up north on Route 95. Nats fans may be fretting about having to watch Trea Turner in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform in DC next season, but due to the new “All-MLB” balanced schedule, the Phils “only” come to Nats Park six times instead of the usual 9 or 10. I think Turner will fit in very nicely up there.
Philly loves players who get dirty. Trea is one of those guys. Bigger bases next year will help his stolen base count too. Numerous Washington baseball transactions transpired since Halloween, but I’ll just mention those that stood out to me.In early November, Sean Doolittle elected free agency and then was signed by the Nats to a minor league contract that included an invitation to spring training.
Also electing free agency but not re-signed by the Nats were RHPs Steve Cishek, Will Harris, Joe Ross, Anibal Sanchez, Tommy Romero, and Erick Fedde, 2B Cesar Hernandez, DH Nelson Cruz, and 1B Luke Voit.
Washington signed free agent 1B Matt Adams to a minor league deal. Adams needs no re-introduction. Adams was homerless in just 22 games with Colorado last season as he battled elbow and shin problems.
The Nationals signed free agent RHP Trevor Williams (turns 31 in April), who pitched very adequately for the Mets last year in a mixed starter/reliever role. (90 innings, 3.60 ERA, 86 Ks). Williams spent the first several years of his career as a starter with Pittsburgh and could break into the Nats starting rotation in 2023.
Also signed as free agents were 3B Jeimer Candelario and CF Stone Garrett. Candelario, 29, had a down year in 2022 (.217 BA, 13 HR, 19 2B, 50 RBI) compared to 2021 (.271 BA, 16 HR, 40 2B, 67 RBI) while with Detroit. Candelario will challenge Carter Kieboom at the hot corner. Garrett, 27 years old, made it to the majors last August after a nine-year climb (sound familiar, Joey Meneses fans?) and hit .276 with 4 HR and 10 RBI in 27 games with Arizona. Garrett will vie for playing time in the Nats OF with Lane Thomas and Alex Call.
In November, the Nationals selected the contract of RHP Jackson Rutledge from the Fred Nats. The 17th overall pick in the 2019 draft is on the Nats 40-man roster but the 23-year-old has yet to play above single-A in his career. In 20 starts for Fredericksburg last season, he went 8-6 with a 4.90 ERA and 99 punchouts in 97.1 innings.
Activated from the 60-day injured list were RHP Tanner Rainey, RHP Stephen Strasburg, and 3B Carter Kieboom. This is just a roster formality and does not imply that Strasburg is any more ready to play than he has been since 2020.
Earlier in December, Washington used its number one spot in the Rule 5 draft to grab right-hander Thad Ward from the Red Sox. (Rule 5 Refresher: A player who is age 18 or younger when first signed must make the 40-man roster within 5 years or become eligible for another team to nab that player). Within the “Major League” portion of this special draft, the Nats paid Boston $100,000. Ward must remain on Washington’s active MLB roster, or he could be sold back to the Red Sox for $50,000. Ward subsequently became Washington’s 13th rated prospect. In 51.1 innings with 13 starts across 4 minor league teams last year, Ward had a 2.28 ERA with 66 strikeouts. Ward followed that up with 12.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League and struck out 15 with a 2.84 ERA. Ward made 3 starts and appeared in one other game. Ward will turn 26 before spring training begins.Leveraging their poor finish last season again, the Nats claimed SS Jeter Downs off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. Losing 107 games in 2022 positioned Washington first in line on the waiver order to acquire Downs. (Jesse Dougherty, Washington Post). In 39 at bats over 14 games, Downs batted .154 with a home run and 4 RBI. Downs struck out in more than half his at bats. Hopefully, a change in scenery will rekindle his former status as a top prospect for Boston. Ample time for a guy who’s just 24.
New Ownership?Another key non-development has been the absence of a new ownership deal. When the possibility of sale was announced, there was a chance that something could get done during the winter meetings. This is not helping the Nats with free agent signings. Why does it seem like 2005-6 again but worse? Ted Leonsis’ group remains the front runner from all that I’ve read, but it seems that a huge part of the delay has a lot to do with the MASN television rights debacle. Less than 50 days until pitchers and catchers report! (February 14, 2023)