Jesse Rogers of ESPN reported last week on the Nationals’ reportedly showing “some” level of interest in a potential reunion with Jeimer Candelario, the 29-year-old third baseman the club signed to a 1-year/$5M deal last winter, before Washington dealt the veteran at the ‘23 trade deadline. GM Mike Rizzo and Co. in the D.C. front office sent Candelario to Chicago in return for left-handed pitcher DJ Herz, 22 and a 2019 8th Round pick, and Kevin Made, a 21-year-old infielder who signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2019 (for $1.5M).
The market for Candelario, Rizzo explained to 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies the day after the deadline, started at seven or eight teams but was down to two serious clubs prior to the deal with the Cubs.
“When it got down to it, there [were] two serious contenders for him, and because of — positionally, and there wasn’t a lot of need for corner infielders, third and first with the contending teams, so the market shrunk, is what I’m trying to say, at the end,” he explained.
“Two serious contenders were on him, and the Cubs’ two young prospects were the guys that we liked the most. And we pulled the trigger. And we got two really young players with a lot of upside. We got a 22-year-old left-handed pitcher that’s striking out almost 12-13 players per nine innings, at 22 years old in Double-A already, we like that escalation, his name is Herz.
“And Made, is a young, toolsy shortstop that can really play defense, and he’s got an outstanding throwing arm and we think the bat has potential for him to be an everyday player. So, he’s 20 years old in A-ball, and he’ll be going to Wilmington, and Herz will be going to Harrisburg.”
Made struggled at the plate in a small sample size in the Nats’ system after the trade, going 10 for 73 (.137/.232/.192) in 22 games, to finish up with a combined .218/.307/.319 line in 92 games and 383 PAs on the year.
Herz posted a 2.55 ERA (and 53 Ks) in 35 1⁄3 IP at Double-A, and impressed in the Arizona Fall League as well (3.71 ERA, 25 Ks in 17 IP).
LHP DJ Herz, who came over to the #Nats in the Jeimer Candelario trade, was on Minors and Majors with @granthpaulsen on Sirius XM today. The @MLBazFallLeague all-star called his fastball his best pitch and his Vulcan changeup his “bread and butter.”— Lacy Lusk (@LacyLuskBA) November 5, 2023
Rizzo had only good things to say about Candelario’s time in the nation’s capital, which saw him put up a .258/.342/.481 line with 30 doubles and 16 homers in 99 games and 419 plate appearances in what ended up being a bounce-back, 3.3 fWAR campaign for the eight-year veteran.
“Candy was great for us,” the Nationals’ GM said. “What a great guy in the clubhouse. That was one thing I really didn’t know much about, that he was that great in the clubhouse. We knew that he was a great guy, [manager] Davey [Martinez] had him in Chicago, but he was a mentor to those young infielders, and was great in the clubhouse, and had a terrific year for us.”
“Jeimer, obviously, he was awesome,” Martinez said once Candelario had been dealt. “Like I’ve said before — he was everything I expected and more and he did well for us, and we’ll miss him.”
As Rizzo mentioned, Martinez and Candelario previously crossed paths, when the one-time Cubs’ prospect was on the way up in Chicago, and the sixth-year skipper, who was a bench coach with the Cubs, said he saw some real growth in their time together this past season.
“He’s grown up. He’s grown up,” Martinez said. “He established himself as a major league baseball player, but you can tell, from the first time I saw him, this young, skinny little kid, to now, but he’s matured a lot, and he’s become that leader in the clubhouse. That’s what he did for us. He took a lot of our young guys underneath his wings, and tried to help them as much as possible. He’s always positive, he’s always yelling for his teammates in a positive way, so we’ll miss that.”
Martinez teased the possibility of a future reunion when he discussed conversations he’d had with Candelario in the lead-up to the deadline.
“I told Jeimer, ‘Hey, you’ve got an opportunity to go do something special, and go do it. And who knows, we might be together again, but just understand what your job is every day and just be where your feet are.”
Rizzo was asked by MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi earlier this month at the GM Meetings if there was any interest on the Nationals’ part in bringing Candelario back for another run.
“We’re going to look at all of our options,” the GM in D.C. said.
“He was a great teammate for us played well for us,” Rizzo added, echoing his comments at the deadline. “[Candelario] was a pleasure to have in the clubhouse and was really good with our young players and had a hell of a season for us, and appreciated what he did for us, and we got two nice prospects for him, so I think it was a win/win for both of us.”
Morosi reported on Sunday night his sources had the Nationals in the mix for the soon-to-turn 30-year-old third baseman again this winter:
MLB Trade Rumors predicted Candelario will get a 4-year/$70M deal in free agency at some point this offseason. Does that sort of deal make sense for the rebooting Nationals?:
“Bringing Candelario back would obviously be a much more significant commitment for the Nats than it was 12 months ago,” MLBTR’s Anthony Franco wrote last week in explaining why Washington might consider signing the corner infielder again:
“Washington has clear opportunity at third base yet again. After the Candelario deal, they turned to journeyman Ildemaro Vargas and former top prospect Carter Kieboom at the position. Washington third basemen hit .189/.247/.311 in 224 plate appearances from July 31 onward.
“That’s an untenable situation even with the team still amidst a rebuild. Some kind of third base acquisition feels inevitable. While they could be another rebound candidate (e.g. Brian Anderson or non-tender possibility Nick Senzel), Candelario would be a clearer upgrade. General manager Mike Rizzo said last week the team was looking to add a middle-of-the-order lineup presence.”
Does a 4-year deal for Candelario, who’ll be 30 this season, make sense considering where the Nationals are in their re-building/booting process? If he was as good with the Nationals’ young players as Rizzo and Martinez said, would bringing him back to the clubhouse as the club grows together justify the cost?