We know. We know. “What else are they going to say?” “What do you expect them to say?” “Of course they’re going to say that?” But still, both Trevor Williams and Jeimer Candelario talked to reporters in D.C. after they signed on with Washington about why they felt the Nationals were in fact the right choice when it came time to find a new home for the 2023 campaign.
Williams, 30, signed a 2-year/$13M deal, after a season and a half in New York and a 2022 campaign with the Mets in which he made nine starts and 30 appearances overall, with a solid 3.21 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, 23 walks, 84 Ks, and a .253/.307/.413 line against over 89 2⁄3 IP.
He talked in his introductory Zoom/press conference about his expectations heading into free agency this winter, and how he settled on the Nationals, a club coming off a 107-loss season, in the second year of an organizational reboot.
“As far as expectations went, I was just expecting to find a job somewhere, hopefully,” he explained, “… and with the unique year that I had last year, and after I got traded to the Mets on my usage if I’m a swing guy or I’m a starter, my preference was to start, and we had a couple teams on me for starting jobs, and we had a few teams on me for relieving jobs. So how it transpired was after the Winter Meetings, it got a little faster in terms of like negotiating, so it was a stressful Thursday last week, but I’m glad that we got something figured out and I was more than thrilled that [GM] Mike Rizzo was able to trust me in being able to post up for the next two years in the rotation.”
The opportunity to start again, as he had in the majority of his big league outings before ‘21 was a selling point for the veteran starter, but he said he’d heard a lot of good things about the Nats as well when he spoke with current and former Nationals this winter. Though he did say he doesn’t know any of his new teammates, he got the information he needed to sign on in the nation’s capital from some one-time Nationals.
“[Nationals’ manager] Dave [Martinez] called me this morning, had a nice conversation with him this morning about just welcoming me to D.C.,” he said. “I had a lot of talks with Josh Bell. I know he’s not a current National, but I had a lot of talks with him. He’s a guy that I really trust and I value his opinion, and he couldn’t have said better things about D.C.
“I talked with Craig Stammen too, who spent a lot of time in D.C., he couldn’t have said better things about the city, about the organization. As far as [current] players go, no, it’s all new, and we’re navigating that and trying to put faces to names. It’s funny, when you pitch in the same division you feel like you know them because you’ve been pitching against them for the last two years, but to be on the other side, being teammates with them now, is something that I’m looking forward to.”
Getting an opportunity to start again and fill a leadership role with the Nationals at this stage in their reboot was appealing to Williams.
“I was getting excited talking to Josh Bell about some of the kids with the Nationals,” he said. “And saying they got a good head on their shoulders, they’re hungry to bring a championship back to D.C.
“I”m looking forward to kind of watching ... and seeing how they work. Everyone is different and I’ve been very fortunate enough to play with a lot of great baseball players in this game, seeing the leadership last year of — I mean, you guys saw with Max [Scherzer] seeing how he works, seeing how [Jacob] deGrom works, seeing [Chris] Bassitt works, and then seeing how — when I came up in the big leagues with Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon [in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system], seeing how those guys lead, so to see them and to have guys like Craig Stammen too, be a good leader, and what I heard of the guys from the Padres that [the Nationals] got, with MacKenzie Gore and [CJ] Abrams, seeing how hungry they are and the head on their shoulders, so I’m looking forward to seeing these guys flourish, and if I can help in any way possible I’m looking forward to that. It is funny, when I was looking at the roster where I think I’ve turned the page and I’ve become the old guy. Even though I feel like I’m not too old. I’m looking forward to taking on that role, and learning something from these kids too.”
Candelario, 29, took a 1-year/$5M offer from the Nationals, who are hoping he will bounce back following a down year in 2022.
In 2021, with Detroit’s Tigers, Candelario posted a .271/.351/.443 line, 42 doubles, and 16 home runs in 149 games and 626 PAs in a (team-high) 3.9 fWAR season, but he followed up with a .217/.272/.361, 19 double, 13 home run, -0.1 fWAR campaign in ‘22 in which he played in 124 games and made 467 plate appearances.
When it came to sign on for 2023?
“There was a lot of teams interested ... but I saw the opportunity in the team they’re building right now,” Candelario told reporters of choosing the Nats.
“I know [Victor] Robles, I know a couple of the guys over there.
“I know that I can bring some energy and bring some work that I have to do, and I just want to contribute.
“There was one other team that was really interested, and we just decided, me and my agent, it was a great opportunity playing in Washington, so that’s why we went for it.”
Asked how he thought he could maintain his energy and enthusiasm on a club that is rebooting and coming off a third straight last place finish in the NL East, the veteran infielder talked about how he expects everyone to approach the 2023 campaign.
“We have to be free, we have to enjoy,” he said. “But especially we have to enjoy. Nobody enjoys a lot of things when you’re losing, but we have to take the best of the day, we have to be able to turn the page, we have to be able to learn how to win ballgames, because that’s what we’re built for. In the big leagues we want to win, and you just got to do little things to get us going and help us to win ballgames, like I always said. It was a crazy year last year when I was with the Tigers, but I think if we all bring the energy that we’re supposed to bring and compete every single day a lot of good things can happen, and we just need good vibes, and step in the right way, every single guy, and I think it’s going to help a lot.”
Reuniting with Martinez, who was a coach with the Cubs when Candelario first came up with Chicago, was a big factor in the infielder’s decision, and playing on a young, hungry team in a leadership role had appeal as well.
“Leadership starts [with] doing the little things the right way, leading by example,” Candelario explained.
“Doing the stuff that I’m supposed to do, and we have a lot of young guys, like Davey said, but me going there to the Nationals, I have to put myself in a good position to help the young guys the right way.
“I have to bring the energy, I have to bring the mindset we’re winning, we’re winning. That’s [the mindset]. We need to do the right things to win, and that’s what we’re going to do.
“For me, just putting me in that position, I just want to be able to lead by example. You know, treating the guys the right way, and for sure doing my job. You have to do your job.
“If you want to be a leader you have to do your job on the field and off the field. So I’m going to put myself in a good position to help the team win, and whatever I have to do to help my teammates, I’m going to do it.”
How about Dominic Smith, the latest addition to the Nats’ roster, after the 27-year-old first baseman/outfielder was DFA’d and released by the New York Mets who had drafted him in the 1st Round in 2013 (11th overall) and brought him up in 2017. Smith took a 1-year/$2M deal from Washington. Why?
“I’m seeing what they did in 2019,” he said, referring, of course, to the World Series win in ‘19, “… and talking it over with Davey and seeing just the moves they made over the last year, and having him and [GM Mike Rizzo] talk to me and really reach out and let me know my plan, what they kind of expect from me, and in my opinion I felt like there was an opportunity for me to kind of help this young core group of guys kind of develop in the big leagues and just kind of have that fresh start in my career to go play every day and help the Nationals win as many games as I can.”