Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Are we sure this is the right Direction for 2023?


Corey Dickerson, new Nats signing, from 2019, the last time he was good. Photo via wikipedia

Upon hearing the latest “1 year veteran FA lottery ticket” signing (Corey Dickerson), I paused to update the Big Board and slot in Dickerson into the starting lineup.

If the season opened today, here’s what we’re presumably putting out on the field:

CARuiz, Keibert#
1BSmith, Dominic*
2BGarcia, Luis*
SSAbrams, C.J.
3BCandelario, Jeimer#
CFDickerson, Corey*
CFRobles, Victor
RFThomas, Lane
DHMeneses, Joey

This lineup includes now three off-season signings in Dominic Smith, Jeimer Candelario, and now Dickerson. All of them are getting non-trivial money to come here, and all of them are going to start.

Here’s the thing. The team lost 107 games last year. We (arguably) had internal players to cover the three positions these guys are now projected to play.

Why exactly did we sign them, instead of playing our prospects??

So, instead of allowing Joey Meneses , who lest we forget hit 13 homers in 65 games last year en route to a 165 OPS+ figure, to play 1B primarily, we’ve bought Smith and guaranteed him the spot (2022 slash line for Smith: .194/.276/.284.

Instead of seeing if Carter Kieboom can actually hold onto the job at 3B, or (gasp) maybe give a shot to (arguably) the best minor league hitter we had last year in Jake Alu, we now get to watch some random guy named Candelario (2022 slash line: .217 .272 .361).

Instead of rolling the dice in LF with a guy like Alex Call (or even positionally-flexible Meneses or Alu) or newly signed Stone Garrett, or maybe even to continue to give ABs to Yadiel Hernandez (who had a 108 OPS+ last year at the position) … we get Dickerson, who is now on his 7th team at the age of 34, has zero history here, and is literally the definition of journeyman.

Is this what we really want as a fan-base? To have these positions filled by guys we couldn’t pick out of a lineup, instead of seeing if we have internal options that can grow into the positions?

What’s the goal in 2023? To only lose 106 games? Do we really care if we go 55-107 again? All our top prospects are babies, aged 19-20 and playing in the lower minors. It’s going to take several years for these guys to matriculate. We KNOW 2023 is a lost season already. The ownership is in flux, the damn MASN thing still remains unresolved, and we have $65M tied up in two starters who may never pitch again.

I mean, what’s next? Do we re-sign Nelson Cruz to paper over Meneses yet again and relegate him to the bench? What’s more valuable to the team: 4 months of a 1yr FA on the off-chance he has a decent summer and can be flipped for some low-A reliever at the trade deadline, or to see if guys like Kieboom, Alu, Garrett, heck maybe even Jeter Downs can compete?

Written by Todd Boss

January 11th, 2023 at 8:11 am

15 Responses to 'Are we sure this is the right Direction for 2023?'

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  1. You’re singin’ my song, brother. And really, their only hope with these guys (and Trevor Williams too) is that they play well enough to be worth an A-ball prospect at the trade deadline. (BTW, Matt Adams is also lurking to potentially take ABs from Meneses.)

    I know that people want to talk about the ownership situation, but there’s something else going on here — denial, or something akin to it. The word in the baseball community is that the Nats have refused to admit that they’re in rebuilding mode. Rizzo has told people, in all seriousness, that he wants to get to .500 in 2023 and back in contention in 2024.

    I’m not a Rizzo hater. He built a team that contended for almost a decade and brought us a championship. But I really have no idea what he thinks he’s selling now. These seem like desperate acts by a man who feels like his job is threatened and hasn’t been given much money with which to save it.

    Maybe all of these guys find their mojo from three or four years ago, and Corbin does too. But likely not.

    Like you, I at least would have liked to know if they’ve got anything from Kieboom or Alu. Let them play. I’d rather have let Ward/Adon/Lee/Irvin pitch over signing Williams. But other than those guys, they really don’t have a lot of others who aren’t getting a look. Upper minors are a dumpster fire. Maybe Hassell can progress and debut in June/July when Robles is hitting .195, but that’s about all we’ve got to look forward to in the near future.


    11 Jan 23 at 9:20 am

  2. I generally agree with your analysis but haven’t totally given up hope. Let’s see what happens in spring training. If Candelaria isn’t hitting but Alu is, will they really start the former? If Dickerson is slumping while Call is raking, will they really stick with the journeyman? Do they really need to stick with Smith if he’s not producing? I wish I were confident that the answer to all these questions is “no”. But the Nats did stick with Cruz and Hernandez last year for no apparent purpose. So while we can hope they’ve learned their lesson, I wouldn’t bet on it.


    11 Jan 23 at 10:39 am

  3. Your point is well taken and if the new signees are not producing wins at close to a .500 clip then it’s time to move on. You still owe the ticket holders a reasonable expectation that you can win that day’s game. While their recent performance is what made them available, they are still proven major leaguers.

    That being said, I think you can still see what you’ve got in the other players. Unless Kieboom totally dazzles in spring training I see him ticketed to AAA to get back in the swing of things. If he tears it up the first half, bring him up. Meneses will DH every day as I see it. Alu is a great story and I’d love to see him getting meaningful AB’s in the show. Given that he can play multiple positions I think we could. Call is intriguing but he’s 28.

    The future, if it all pans out is Abrams, Garcia, Ruiz, Gray, Cavalli, Gore and maybe Kieboom, Robles and then the youngsters in MiLB. None of these moves blocks or even significantly delays them getting their chance.


    11 Jan 23 at 11:32 am

  4. Anybody got a Baseball Prospectus subscription? I don’t and they just dropped their nats 2023 prospect list

    would love to just get the list from someone.

    Todd Boss

    11 Jan 23 at 3:45 pm

  5. Had to check: Kieboom does still have one option left. This will still just be his age-25 season, which is hard to believe. And for the record, I’m not expecting great things from him. But they do need to find out once and for all.

    FredMD mentioned the very real concern/need to have a semi-viable product on the field. I certainly agree with that point. At the same time, every single one of these signees — Trevor Williams excepted — is a major reclamation project. It’s hard to sell hope, and tickets, with a bunch of guys who hit .195.

    It’s also fair to say that other than Kieboom and/or Alu (who I’m still not sure they really consider a prospect to play every day), I don’t know that anyone of significance is being “blocked.” Meneses still figures to be the DH. The upper minors have no one other than Alu to offer as a viable possibility.

    I guess some rubber will meet the road when some of the signees, and possibly Robles and Kieboom, don’t hit in the spring.

    The bottom line is that this IS a rebuild, and it isn’t going to be pretty. The lower minors have been restocked, but growing the kids will take some time.


    11 Jan 23 at 3:53 pm

  6. Joey Meneses is going to be in the lineup until he needs a rest or faceplants. No one is taking PA away from him, although he’ll mostly play “bat” (DH). The only person arguably being blocked is Alu – and given that he’s only played 59 games in AAA I have no problem with him starting the season in AAA where he can play every day. Which is also most likely Kieboom’s destination so HE can play every day while shaking off the rust.

    All of these guys have options except Dickerson and Candelario. Their job is to hit enough to make them interesting enough to flip for a lottery ticket. Even if they don’t, if Alu and Harris (and Kieboom? Add dreams of glory) rake their path isn’t going to be blocked by these guys. All those options mean that the Nats have flexibility which I trust them to use more competently than I could manage.

    John C.

    11 Jan 23 at 11:28 pm

  7. JohnC: I just wonder how much Kieboom has left to prove in AAA. In 2019 in a full season he posted a 900 OPS plus (but it was in PCL so inflated). then in 2021 nursing an injury and disappointed from getting cut he slumped to a .761 OPS.

    Same with alu; in 2022 in 59 games he put up a 925 ops figure in AAA. Ok Small sample size sure … but my salient point is this: both guys have shown they can hit AAA hitting. Why have we bought veteran FAs to basically guarantee that both guys either sit the bench in MLB or are back in AAA? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for a last place team to “play the kids” in MLB and see what they have? I mean heck, Kieboom got 400 or so PAs across three seasons (19-21) … all before he turned 24.

    Unless we are guaranteed to turn these veteran FAs into prospects … i just don’t get the approach.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 23 at 12:17 pm


    Former 1st rounder and local talent JB Bukauskas just got cut loose by Arizona … seems like a perfect Nats pickup if he can get through DFA and hit waivers. I mean, we still have fat to cut on the 40-man if they need a spot.

    Todd Boss

    12 Jan 23 at 12:19 pm

  9. The other historical note is that Bukauskas supposedly was the centerpiece of the Harper non-trade with Houston. Guess that one wouldn’t have worked out so well. Instead, he went with Seth Beer (also not working out well) in the Greinke deal that very nearly beat the Nats in the 2019 World Series. But it didn’t.


    12 Jan 23 at 9:24 pm

  10. Corbin may never pitch again!? Don’t give me hope!


    12 Jan 23 at 11:04 pm

  11. OK Sao, it’s not April 1, but I’m not finding this news with a quick search. What’s the story?


    13 Jan 23 at 10:49 am

  12. Todd, my take on the “why not play Alu/Kieboom in DC and see what you have” is that Alu has only 59 games at AAA where he significantly overperformed his previous minor league numbers. While Kieboom was legit promising in 2019 (it wasn’t all PCL – his wRC+ was 123), since then he’s been “meh” at AAA and straight up bad at the MLB level. He’s going to be knocking off the rust from a season lost to injury in 2022. I think that both of them are besst served by playing every day in AAA to hone their skills.

    And the reason that I feel that way is that I don’t think that the vets that the Nats have signed to play 1b, 3b, and LF are really blocking them because the Nats just aren’t that committed to them – financially or otherwise. If they stink and Alu and/or Kieboom are raking in AAA, the kids will be in DC by midseason. And maybe if they don’t stink. Any of the veterans that rake enough to be interesting will be flipped for prospects. Until then, they’re basically placeholders so that the Nats don’t have to play the kids until they are ready.

    I do wonder if part of the thought process is that there’s less harm than usual in making the team a bit more respectable (if not good) because as I understand it the Nats won’t be able to draft above #10 in next year’s first round as it is. So the old incentive to tank isn’t truly there.

    John C.

    14 Jan 23 at 9:51 pm

  13. Todd, you were asking if anyone has a subscription to Baseball Prospectus. I don’t but in the Post today they mentioned that Zach Brzykcy was #8 on the list. Only 9 to go.

    Ranking Brzykcy #8 means they’ve been really paying attention. He had an electric year in 2022.

    Mark L

    15 Jan 23 at 1:09 pm

  14. And now we have things getting testy with Robles and his not agreeing on an arbitration settlement. Some public airing of grievances in the Post. Sorry, but the guy remains a much bigger part of the problem than he is of the solution. They finally realized that with Fedde. Why are they still putting up with Robles’s attitude and lack of work?

    No, this isn’t the right direction. He should have been non-tendered. Rizzo may still try to trade him, but what other team wants to pay more than $2M for a defensive replacement?

    This is all a part of my general reaction to Todd’s initial question. They haven’t done enough, no matter how much you factor the ownership question into the equation. Several mentioned the need to at least try to put a reasonable product on the field for the sake of the ticket-holder. But they haven’t. Nearly even player they have brought in has struggled the last year or two and is a let’s-wish-and-hope kind of guy. Apparently so is Robles. Davey had better be a helluva fairy godmother with a lot of magic pixie dust.


    17 Jan 23 at 2:41 pm

  15. I still don’t have a Baseball Prospectus but they just released their Top 100 prospects and they have James Wood at #3. Exciting stuff for a January.

    Mark L

    21 Jan 23 at 2:44 pm

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