The Nationals went into the season with only a few offseason signings that didn’t necessarily generate any headlines. The organization mostly stuck to their strategy of seeking out veterans to sign to short deals. With the sale of the team in limbo, they didn’t look to make a big splash but to simply find players to surround their young talent and to help guide them through the “growing pains” of being full time major league players. They were mostly signed to one year deals to simply have some regular MLB level players on the squad throughout the season that could possibly be traded around the deadline to continue to build the teams’ farm system.. Today we’ll look at how these players have looked a little under 35 games into the season.
We will just get through this one first, as it’s likely the player most Nats fans have already come to terms with being a poor pickup for the Nationals. Dominic Smith is a 7-year MLB veteran who has spent his career up until this season with the Nats’ NL East rivals the New York Mets. Hindsight being 20/20, this was always a head-scratcher of a move by Washington. Smith had below a .670 OPS his last two seasons before his arrival in D.C. He was showing signs of regressing, however the Nationals organization saw it as a cheap but valuable signing. This season, that has been far from the case. Dominic Smith is currently slashing .246/.317/.289 over 114 at-bats. He has a staggeringly low OPS+ of 74. During all of this, he has been continuously penciled in in the 2-4 spots in the lineup, however he has only strung together 11 walks and 5 RBIs. Smith has been a completely substandard hitter, even for a rebuilding team like the Nats, and will almost certainly not be of any trade value for the team this year.
Trevor Williams was the most unique of the Nationals offseason pickups, as he was the only one signed to a two-year deal. The right-hander was brought to the team to serve as a steady member of the rotation and eat innings for the rebuilding squad. He has, at least in my opinion, successfully filled this role. Williams has thrown 31.2 innings over 6 games, and has a 1-1 win-loss record so far in the early parts of this season. He currently holds a modest but solid 3.41 ERA and a 1.232 WHIP. His Baseball Savant page definitely doesn’t look fantastic, however he does sit in the 81th percentile in chase rate. However, he has been what the organization was looking for so far, a consistent arm in the rotation that can hold his own and put together starts that allow the offense something to work with. As he was signed to a multi-year deal, Williams will likely be with the team going into the next season, and if his production remains at its current level, fans will likely have no complaints about that.
This 29 year old longtime Detroit Tigers player was signed for similar reasons to Trevor Williams, as a player that would simply be consistent and bolster the lineup with some extra pop and a solid glove. Unfortunately, Candelario hasn’t exactly been the bat the Nationals were looking for. He has struggled so far to hit for average and has not really been able to provide much in terms of the long ball. Jeimer currently holds a meager .228/.275/.378 slashline, with a .653 OPS that is far from anything to write home about. He does however, lead the team in home runs. This is somewhat unfortunate as he has hit 4 balls out of the park, which is partially an indictment of his power fading since his seasons where he was hitting close to 20, and partially a glimpse into the lack of power in the lineup as a whole. There is a major piece of Candelario’s game that has had a great impact on the games he’s in, his defense. Jeimer ranks 94th in Outs Above Average, and watching the games, it becomes increasingly obvious why. If his bat heats up, Candelario could be a viable 3B for the remainder of this season, and possibly a solid bench or backup 3B next year, or serve as a decent trade piece for the team at the deadline.
While not a free agent signing, Rule 5 pickup Thad Ward has been a decent bullpen piece for Washington early in the season. He has pitched 12 innings, giving up 7 hits and 5 earned runs. While he definitely has his troubles, especially with his 7 walks among the hits and runs scored, he has also struck out 13 batters he’s faced, which is reflected in his position in the 71st percentile in K%. This has Ward holding a 3.75 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP. While not a lights-out arm out of the pen, Ward has held his own and been a solid member of a bullpen that has been strong for the second year in a row.
The Nationals offseason definitely didn’t blow anyone away, but several of the players that were signed have been exactly what the team sought out, consistent and reliable. For cheap, short-term pickups, this is all a rebuilding team can really ask for. If these players can continue to produce, they will likely help to soften the blows of watching a young team that will likely hit many speed bumps. This also opens the door to the team being able to deal them for prospects that will help to bolster a farm system that is beginning to slowly climb through the ranks of many “Best Farm Systems” lists. While there is still a tremendous amount of baseball to be played, fans can only hope these acquisitions can help the team to improve either now or down the road.