Jesse Winker is the best Free Agent signing the Nationals made this offseason

Every year, Mike Rizzo grabs a veteran player in the offseason that he hopes can bring leadership and a surprising spark of offense and defense to the field. It worked last year with 3B Jeimer Candelario, and Mike Rizzo has struck gold again.
Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds selected Outfielder Jesse Winker with the 49th pick. Winker had been committed to the University of Florida, but instead went straight to the pros out of Olympia High School. Winker made his major league debut in April 2017 and became a platoon outfielder with the Reds, but it was not until 2021 that Jesse Winker showed full potential.

In that season, Winker played 110 games for the Reds, slashing a .305 average at the plate, 24 homers, 74 RBIs, and a .950 OPS. Winker would be selected and start in left field for the National League All-Star team. Winker was enjoying a career year and the Reds seemed to have a cornerstone in the middle of their lineup.

Now, the 2021 Reds did not have any glimpse of a World Series contending team anytime soon, so along with many others, Winker would be traded in the 2022 offseason. Jesse Winker and 3B Eugenio Suarez were traded to the Seattle Mariners for OF Jake Fraley, RHP Justin Dunn, and LHP Brandon Williamson. When Winker was traded, there was plenty of talk about how he would perform. Great American Ballpark has a short-in-distance right field, favoring Winker as a left-handed hitter. With Seattle being a longer to distance to the right, there was some doubt if Winker's game would translate as well.

In 136 games, Winker would only hit .219, with all power and slugging numbers dropping. Winker only hit 14 homeruns and 54 RBI, both lower than the 2021 numbers. So in the hopes of still getting some trade worth, Winker was shipped off again. This time Winker was back to the National League Central where he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for 2B Kolten Wong. Everything would fall apart in Winker’s return to his former division. In only 61 games, Winker hit .199 with only 1 home run. Winker battled Injuries for most of the 2023 season, and his contract was up at year's end.

The 2024 offseason came around and Winker was a free agent for the first time in his 7-year career. Mike Rizzo gave a call, and Winker signed with Washington only on a minor league deal with a Spring Training Invite. The Nationals outfield was already loaded with depth. Outfielders Alex Call, Jacob Young, Travis Blankenhorn, Victor Robles, James Wood, and Dylan Crews were all vying for a starting spot on the roster. Winker would come in as a veteran left-handed bat, someone who fit Davey Martinez’s offseason wishes, and would play very well.

Winker hit .333 in 17 spring training games and would get the OPS to .942. Winker performed well enough for the Opening Day Roster and hit 6th in the lineup on Opening Day in (Of-course) Great American Ballpark.

So the question was once again, would Jesse Winker take advantage of the new opportunity? Absolutely. In the first month, Winker hit just under .300, and over 43 games so far, Winker has a .224 average, with 5 homers and 20 RBI. His average has dipped as of late, but Winker has already hit 3 go-ahead homers and a few clutch RBIs. He is a much better veteran leader in terms of still providing statistical value than some of the other recent clubhouse leaders the Nationals have tried to bring in.

Winker has also been dazzling in left field, with 4 outfield assists and only 1 error. I hope Winker is a piece for the near future, a veteran leader who has not only performed well on the field but helped teach the young talent as well. If that’s not the case, The Nationals can once again flip a vet for a decent prospect at the deadline.