Nationals Arm Race

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

2023 Non Tender Candidate Analysis


Robles gets to hang out one more year. Photo via nbcsports

Hot on the tail of the Rule-5 analysis we have the tender deadline for arb-eligible players. Well, technically the entirety of the arb-eligible plus pre-arb players are up for non-tendering, but the priority this week is usually just dealing with the players who have arbitration cases coming up (we can simply assign salaries to the pre-arb guys if we want them, and we can DFA them any time otherwise).

Note: I wrote the below BEFORE the Rule-5 deadline and subsequent deals, so I’ll cross-off what is no longer relevant and put in updated notes, since most of our decisions were basically made for us presumably.

So, looking at our 40-man roster and the arbitration-eligible guys (thanks to Cots and to MLBTraderumors for candidate lists), here’s a quick rundown on our Arb guys (salary estimates come from another MLBTraderumors post, and even though i sometimes quibble with their estimates they’re usually pretty spot on)

  • Kyle Finnegan (A2): $2.3M this year, $5.1M estimate for 2024. I’ll take $5M for a closer. Tender him, and trade him for prospects next year.
  • Victor Robles (A3): $2.3M 2023, $2.7M for 2024. Had a club option declined to make him arb-eligible for one last time. An interesting decision; he actually looked decent for a month and a half before hitting the DL. $2.7M for a guy who, if he’s healthy and hitting .299/.385/.364 at the trade deadline will absolutely net prospects. Alex Call didn’t exactly earn the starting CF nod with his Mendoza-line batting. Young may need more AAA time. I say you tender him, he starts in CF until Young or (ahem) Crews is ready to take over CF on the big league club then flip him. Update: signed for 2024 for undisclosed money, but they turned down a club option for $3.3M so it’s likely somewhere in the $2.7-$2.8 range.
  • Lane Thomas: $2.2M this year, $7M next. No brainer. Tender him. The bigger question with Thomas is … how long do you hold on to him? Is he a long-term piece on this team or does he make way once the litany of OF prospects arrive? All our top prospects are outfielders. Woods, Crews, Green, Lile, Hassell, and Vaquero. Do you hold onto Thomas until you have all three prospects up and producing? Probably. This is a larger bit of analysis but i’ve distilled what the front office is probably thinking.
  • Dominic Smith: $2M this year, $4.3M next. .366 slugging and 12 homers for your 1B free agent guy who you were counting on flipping at the deadline? That’s not going to cut it. Non-tender him, cut him loose and try again in the FA market this coming off-season. Probably should have done this non-tender before the rule-5 deadline to open up cap space. Update: DFA’d ahead of Rule-5 additions to make room, just as I said they would.
  • Tanner Rainey: $1.5M this year, $1.5M next year. Hurt all year, but closer-quality guy for a song. Tender him. Update: club signed him for exactly $1.5M next year. Fair gamble.
  • Ildimaro Vargas: $975K this year, no official estimate for salary next year (probably $1.1M) He may not have gotten an estimate because he was a MLFA. A decent hitting middle infielder backup. if Carter Kieboom is healthy, he may not have a spot, but no reason not to tender him. The team DFA’d Chavis, maybe so they could keep Vargas. Remember; even a contract tender only puts the team on the hook for a fraction of it if they whack a guy in spring training next year. Correction: as pointed out in the comments, Vargas resigned at the end of the season already. so this analysis is moot.
  • Hunter Harvey: $870k this year, $2.2M next. Easily our best reliever this year. Tender him. Another guy who you’d think could net prospects at the trade deadline.
  • Carter Kieboom: $733k this year, maybe $1M next. MLBtraderumors doesn’t have him as being arb eligible in its analysis, but Cots does. He’s got 2+ years of service, finally got healthy and onto the field. Still isn’t hitting like he did as a prospect, but the opportunity cost of playing him one more season isn’t very high. He either sticks, or you wait out House. It is still baffling to me why he didn’t make the leap to the MLB; its hard to remember just how good a prospect he was in AAA; he was top 20 for all of the minors on major lists in 2020. I’d love to really know what happened to him.
  • Luis Garcia: $738K this year, $2.2M next. This estimate seems high, especially since the team had to send him down mid-season, but they won’t cut him yet. Tender him. Can he be our long term 2B? Maybe. There’s a couple of middle infield types who are making a case in the near future: Darren Baker has moved all the way to AAA as a 2B primary fielder, Kevin Made is a SS who could move to 2B, Jordy Barley just resigned, and Trey Lipscomb was one of our minor league POTYs this year and featured in the AFL. So, the pressure is on.

The team had already dfa’d a couple of the more obvious non-tender candidates (Chavis, Banda, and Arano) well ahead of this week. So that plus the Smith DFA made this analysis pretty trivial.

Written by Todd Boss

November 15th, 2023 at 11:34 pm

Posted in Non-Tender

11 Responses to '2023 Non Tender Candidate Analysis'

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  1. I’d like to see an A/B closer situation for Rainey and Harvey for the first half.

    Robles deal was reported to be less than 2M, another surprising development in his confusing career

    Kieboom should get some looks at first base. any long term projection for him seems unlikely at third. MLB baseball is very hard

    Vargas has been signed


    16 Nov 23 at 9:15 am

  2. You think Kieboom should get looks at 1B?? Not unless he starts hitting 25 homers. I mean, if he is hitting and House is ready to take over at 3B, sure, move him to 1B. But right now you have to think the team is going ot buy another lottery ticket 1B on the FA market like they did with Smith.

    Brandon Belt, Rhys Hoskins on a pillow contract post injury, Keston Hiura as a comeback player possibility, Miguel Sano; these are the kinds of guys that we may be looking at.

    Todd Boss

    16 Nov 23 at 11:26 am

  3. Kieboom hasn’t shown he can consistently hit at the major league level but when he is going good he hits for power. I’m saying he has one last chance and if he can play first it better suits their needs

    I understand the desire to upgrade to better compete from day one.


    16 Nov 23 at 12:38 pm

  4. The Nats re-signed Vargas at the end of the season:

    I know of nothing that would give me continuing hope for Kieboom. Plus he’s out of options. They’ll give him yet another “one more chance” in the spring (the dude has more than nine lives), but there’s nothing that should have them penciling him in, even for a bench spot. In 508 MLB plate appearances, he’s at .199/.297/.301.

    I’m curious to see what they do with Robles. He played well enough last year to have a smidgen of trade value. But who knows how long they need a bridge to Crews/Wood. Is Jacob Young enough of a bridge?

    (As big of a prospect as Kieboom was, Robles was bigger. Part of the reason the franchise is where it is relates directly to them not becoming significant players, among other things.)

    The club put Garcia on notice to shape up when they sent him to the minors. He did play better when he came back up. But he’s at a crossroads and needs to get in shape this winter and show up with a new attitude. Lipscomb didn’t look MLB-ready in Arizona, but if he can hit at AAA like he did at AA, he could get himself into the conversation. (If not, the Nats need to seriously look at middle infielders in the draft, as they don’t have a lot of options.)


    16 Nov 23 at 5:39 pm

  5. I wouldn’t trade Thomas. They’re going to need him to keep the offense semi-viable for the foreseeable future. We all hope that Wood and Crews are ready to come up at some point in 2024, but that isn’t a given at all. And the other OF projects are much farther away, unless we’re counting on a real turnaround from hassle.

    I’m under no illusions and Thomas is a superstar, and his walk rate regression is concerning, but it would be difficult to replace 28 homers and 101 runs scored in this anemic offense.


    16 Nov 23 at 6:10 pm

  6. no illusions THAT Thomas is a superstar . . .


    16 Nov 23 at 6:10 pm

  7. KW, if Thomas could be traded for, for example, a player like Herz and maybe one or two more similarly rated prospects, you wouldn’t do it? Because that’s the implications of holding onto Thomas. He almost certainly got decent trade value, even if that value has been dropping since the trade deadline.

    Thomas turned back into the pumpkin that he’s been from 2019-2022 after a brilliant first half. Over the last 3 months, he hit .233/.279/.422 (that .701 OPS is almost identical to his ’22 .705 OPS). If that’s how he performs in 2024, he won’t play much of a role in keeping our offense viable. I strongly believe the Nats should have sold high on him, because there’s little to be gained from him elevating us from like a 67 win team to a 71 win team at this point. And I harbor little hope that the .865 OPS he hit for the first 3 months is suddenly his new level of production. But it wouldn’t be the first (or 5th) time we resisted trading players for far too long. Just look at some of the names above!


    17 Nov 23 at 8:30 am

  8. I missed that htey signed Vargas already; i’ll correct the post.

    Great points about Kieboom and options. Options absolutely matter here, even when i try to do this kind of analysis one factor at a time.

    I think they should have traded thomas LAST season and cashed in. What are the odds he repeats his 2023? It came out of nowhere. I worry that he’ll regress to his 2022 form, as Will mentioned.

    Todd Boss

    17 Nov 23 at 9:14 am

  9. I wouldn’t have hated trading Thomas at the trade deadline and wouldn’t hate it now. I just don’t think the return would be very much. They have to have at least some viable offense to put on the field. He hit 18.5% of the team’s homers last season. Right now FanGraphs has the Nats projected with an anemic 22.3 fWAR for 2024.

    Yes, Thomas and Joey Bats are bridge-type players who will quickly be forgotten when they get good again. But they’re not good right now, at all, and they’re not going to sign a 28-homer guy with a good arm in RF.


    17 Nov 23 at 10:40 am

  10. I suspect that many of those who are on the “they should have traded Thomas last year/should trade him ASAP” are people who don’t go to many/any Nats games. This team has been hard enough to watch for much of the past three seasons.

    I was amused at the “All our top prospects are outfielders. Woods, Crews, Green, Lile, Hassell, and Vaquero.” Don’t make Brady House and Yohandy Morales sad!

    John C.

    17 Nov 23 at 11:33 am

  11. The other part of this equation is that the hitter side of the free agent list isn’t strong at all, with the notable exception of Babe Othani, who isn’t coming here. The Nats can’t cheaply or easily replace Thomas’s level of production.

    I’m also skeptical of how much any of the top prospects will be able to contribute to the big club in 2024. I’d love to be wrong and have three or four playing major roles by mid-season, but viewed from right now, that’s a stretch. It would be a good bet that Stone Garrett hits more MLB homers for the Nats in 2024 than James Wood or Dylan Crews.


    17 Nov 23 at 2:59 pm

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