Is Jeimer Candelario Having His Bounce Back Year?
By Sam Holstine
This past offseason, Mike Rizzo went out and added a group of veteran free agents to his team with the hope that some of them could reach a level of success that would make them attractive assets to deal away at the trade deadline. The results have been a mixed bag so far, but it's still very early into the 2023 season, so it is too early to call any of them busts.
One of the main players that fits into that category is third baseman Jeimer Candelario. While a lot of his advanced metrics aren't the hottest, Candelario has improved over the last couple weeks, getting his slash line up to .286/.320/.457. A .777 OPS is certainly playable, and his overall offensive improvements are absolutely welcome and needed to a lineup that lacks power overall. He leads the Nats with his three long balls and is tied for second with three doubles, paving the way for that .457 SLG, a number that also leads the team. He's also tied for the team lead in fWAR at 0.5 with Stone Garrett, who's played in 12 less games. The fact the two are tied despite a pretty big difference in games played isn't a knock on Candelario as much as it is a continuation of the disbelief that Garrett hasn't been getting consistent opportunities, but that's for another time.
A part of Candelario's game that we have seen develop that many Nats fans didn't have any expectations for has been his defense. Currently in the 85th percentile of the league in OAA, Candelario has already accumulated one out above the average third baseman. Obviously one is a very minimal amount and it's in a small sample size, but for comparison, Jeimer finished last season with -6 OAA, so being in the positives is a massive step in the right direction.
With Carter Kieboom still recovering from Tommy John surgery and Jake Alu getting some time to marinate in AAA, there is no one in close sight to take Candelario's job at the hot corner. With that mind, hopefully Candelario can continue his recent offensive surge while keeping his defensive skills sharp at third, completing the bounce back kind of season the Nats were hoping for when they signed him over the offseason. A well-rounded, switch hitting veteran with some positional flexibility could easily net you a young pitcher or position player at the trade deadline this summer to help fuel an only improving Washington farm system.