The Nationals are among the teams that have shown interest in Jeimer Candelario this offseason, reports Jesse Rogers of ESPN. Rogers also tied the free agent corner infielder to the Blue Jays, while a prior report suggested the Angels, D-Backs and Reds had checked in.
Of those teams, only Washington has employed Candelario before. The rebuilding Nats took a $5MM flier on the switch-hitter last offseason. Candelario had been non-tendered by the Tigers on the heels of a dismal 2022 season. He bounced back in D.C., hitting .258/.342/.481 over 99 games. Washington was able to flip him to the Cubs for prospects DJ Herz and Kevin Made, executing the kind of buy-low/midseason trade sequence that noncompetitive teams attempt each offseason.
Candelario didn’t quite maintain that form in Chicago. He hit .234/.318/.445 in 41 games as a Cub, finishing the season with a .251/.336/.471 batting line in 576 plate appearances. He connected on 22 home runs and 39 doubles with league average strikeout and walk rates. It was Candelario’s third above-average season in four years.
As a result, the 29-year-old (30 next Friday) is in a much better position for this free agent trip. He should secure at least a three-year pact and has a good case for four years. MLBTR predicts he’ll land a $70MM guarantee over four seasons, ranking him as the #5 position player in the free agent class.
Bringing Candelario back would obviously be a much more significant commitment for the Nats than it was 12 months ago. 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.
It doesn’t appear the Cubs have as strong an interest in a reunion. Rogers reports that Chicago looks unlikely to retain Candelario. They have third base questions of their own, with Nick Madrigal, Patrick Wisdom and Miles Mastrobuoni among the in-house options. None of that group projects as an everyday player for a contender, but the Cubs could look to alternatives in free agency or trade. Matt Chapman is the top free agent at the position; J.D. Davis, Jorge Polanco and Eugenio Suárez are among speculative trade possibilities.