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Washington Nationals news & notes: Victor Robles and CF in D.C. in 2024

Checking in on the Nationals’ 26-year-old outfielder again...

Victor Robles and Washington’s Nationals avoided arbitration last winter, agreeing on a 1-year/$2.325M contract for the 2023 season, and there was a club option included in the deal for 2024, at $3.3M, but the club declined the option in November, as they announced on X/Twitter, noting, however, “... Robles [remained] under team control and [was] eligible for salary arbitration this offseason.”

The outfielder, 26, went 32 for 107 (.299/.385/.365) at the plate in ‘23, but played in just 36 games, with a back injury leading to an IL stint in early May. He returned to the lineup mid-June, but ended up back on the IL on June 20th, and never returned to the majors, which his manager, Davey Martinez, said was a shame, considering how Robles had played early on in the year.

“It stinks for him, and for us, because we challenged him to make some changes with his swing,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“He did it, and he was doing really, really well. I really wish we could’ve seen that for 550 plate appearances, because I think he would’ve surprised a lot of people. But only time will tell now.”

St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Robles debuted in the majors in 2017, played limited games in the majors in ‘18, then was part of the championship roster in 2019, posting a .255/.326/.419 line, 33 doubles, three triples, 17 home runs, 35 walks, and 140 Ks in 155 games and 617 PAs.

Between 2020-2022, however, Robles posted a combined .216/.291/.306 line in 291 games and 965 PAs, with a 162-game average of 20 doubles, two triples, and six home runs in that stretch. He was off to a solid start this past season, but the back issue kept him out of the lineup after June 20th, with GM and President of Baseball Ops Mike Rizzo telling reporters Robles was finally healthy at the end of the year.

“We think his back is healthy right now,” Rizzo explained, as quoted by MASN’s Zuckerman, with Martinez in June telling reporters Robles had been dealing with a, “back spasm of the lumbar spine.”

“He’s doing his rehab workouts,” Rizzo added. “He’s going to begin baseball workouts soon. And hopefully he’ll get some time in the winter league and recoup some of the at-bats he missed with all the injuries this year.”

“You’re looking at a player that as a rookie, as a kid, performed terrifically on the big stage,” the GM said. “We know who he is. We just need to get him back to that 2019 level.”

Robles and the Nats agreed on what is reportedly a 1-year/$2.65M deal for 2024 back in mid-November, and both Rizzo and Martinez talked at the ‘23 Winter Meetings about his future, and where things stood at that point.

2019 World Series Game 7 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

“He was just cleared I think yesterday or today,” Rizzo said on December 4th.

“He was just cleared medically to play, and he’s going to start playing in the Dominican maybe as soon as tonight.”

Asked what he wanted to see from Robles in 2024, Rizzo said it was simple.

“Be healthy, and be Victor,” Rizzo said. “Be Victor of 2019, when he was a rookie playing with his hair on fire, and he was a pretty damn good player.

“We know it’s in there, and we’re waiting for it to resurface. And a healthy Victor playing like he played in 2019 is an asset to the team.

“He’s an elite defensive guy, he’s showed some power, he’s showed he’s capable of stealing a base. To get him back to where he was is important for us.”

Martinez was asked if, as things stood now, Robles was going to be the expected everyday center fielder in D.C. in 2024?

“It’s all going to depend on his health,” he said. “I’m glad that he’ll be back. We definitely could use him.”

Rizzo too, late last season, addressed the possibility of the next-gen Nationals now starting to challenge some members of the big league roster in the near future, with a number of high-end outfield prospects working their way up in the organization.

“We’ve got players [champing] at the bit to get to the big leagues and they are going to be on the heels of a lot of these big league players that are currently on the roster,” Rizzo said.

“So that’s what this thing is all about: competition at the highest level.”

As of January 1st, Robles has played in eight games total in the Dominican Winter League, going 5 for 21 with four walks and three Ks for the Toros del Este.