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Washington Nationals re-sign Sean Doolittle to minor league deal; decline 2023 option for Nelson Cruz

There was actual news on the first official day of the 2022-23 offseason...


Hours after the 2022 MLB season officially ended, Washington’s Nationals announced their first move of the offseason, bringing veteran reliever Sean Doolittle back into the fold on a minor league deal with an invite to 2023 Spring Training, as the club announced on Sunday morning.

Doolittle, 36, signed a 1-year/$1.5M deal with the Nats last March, after pitching for Cincinnati and Seattle in 2021, but landed on the Injured List with a left elbow sprain in April, and went on the 60-Day IL after receiving a PRP injection in May.

Before the elbow issues, the southpaw tossed 5 1⁄3 scoreless in his second stint with the Nationals, striking out six without walking anyone, and he was starting to throw and build back up when he suffered a setback.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

In mid-July this past summer, the 11-year veteran underwent an internal brace procedure, “... which is repairing the ligament, the UCL ligament,” as Davey Martinez, the club’s manager, explained at the time, adding, “... so he’s going to be out 5-6 months.”

“Before he got hurt he was doing unbelievable,” Martinez added, “… in a role that was very important to us, so hopefully he can come back and we’ll see what happens next spring.”

The left-handed reliever stayed around the team, and his skipper said he was an invaluable resource for the other relievers on the roster.

Doolittle pitched for Washington from 2017 (when he was acquired from the Oakland A’s in a trade) until 2020 (a year after he helped the club win the first World Series by a D.C.-based team since 1924), and Martinez talked more about potentially bringing him back.

“We signed him back this year,” Martinez told reporters of the deal for 2022, “... we knew he wanted to be back here, so it was great to come back here, and like I said, he put in the work in Spring Training, got ready, started the season off really well, and I was proud of him. He came back a different guy. His fastball, his velo was down a little bit, but learned how to pitch a little bit, and that’s tough to do when you’re so used to doing things one way.

“But these guys make adjustments, and he was getting some big outs for us early on in the season.”

Will a now-36-year-old Doolittle, with his surgically-repaired left elbow, earn his way onto the roster again in spring 2023 and get back to recording big outs for the Nationals?

Nationals Decline Mutual Option For Cruz:

Nelson Cruz, who signed a 1-year/$15M free agent deal in D.C. last spring, ended up putting up a .234/.313/.337 line, 16 doubles, and 10 HRs in 124 games and 507 plate appearances in his 18th major league campaign, which ended in mid-September, when the Nats’ 42-year-old DH was shut down with inflammation in his eye which eventually required a surgical fix.

Cruz told’s Jessica Camerato on the final day of the 2022 regular season he was scheduled to have surgery on his eye.

“That would be beautiful to start seeing the baseball again. Vision is everything for hitters,” Cruz told the reporter.

Washington Nationals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

“But the good thing is, it can be fixed.”

“‘You can only see clearly with the right eye,’” he explained. “‘When I close this one, it’s not clear. I need my eyes to be sharp, to be able to see the ball, especially see spins.’”

Cruz’s contract with the Nationals included a mutual option for 2023, a $16M mutual option (or a $3M buyout), and as expected the club declined their end of the mutual option for the slugger, who’s now officially a free agent again.

He did tell the reporter in early October he hoped to play again in ‘23.

“Hopefully, I can go to a place where I can accomplish the goals that I’m looking for — win the World Series,” he said, adding, “It would be really special. I’ve been there close twice. Hopefully, the third time is the last one. Just being blessed. I would be complete with my career, things that you want to accomplish. That’s the ultimate one.”

Cruz joins Steve Cishek, Will Harris, César Hernández, Erasmo Ramirez, Joe Ross, and Aníbal Sánchez on the list of 2022 Nationals who became free agents once the World Series ended this weekend.

MLB clubs now have five days to negotiate with their own free agents before they go on the open market and can negotiate with other teams.