According to reports, the Nationals are exploring the possibility of bringing back Jeimer Candelario this offseason.
Candelario, who turns 30 next week, experienced a resurgence in his career last season after signing a 1 year deal with the Nationals last winter. In 99 games with the Nationals, Candelario hit .258/.342/.481 with 16 Home Runs and 53 RBI prior to being traded to Chicago at the deadline. Following his trade to the Cubs, Candelario cooled off a bit as he battled some minor injuries, hitting .234/.318/.445 with just 6 Home Runs and .17 RBIs in 41 Games.
The report also states that it is unlikely the Cubs will re-sign Candelario, meaning he will be looking for a new home regardless. The Nationals tried to fill Third Base following Candelario's depature, but the combination of Carter Kieboom and Ildemaro Vargas could not get it done and it is unlikely to have any better results next season, putting them back in the market for a Third Baseman as well. Considering how well he played in DC and the fact that he won't demand the contract that Matt Chapman, for instance, will require, it makes sense that the Nationals are kicking the tires on a reunion.
The way I see it is there are both pros and cons to this potential signing:
The Pros are that Candelario fills an immediate and arguably most pressing need both defensively and in the lineup. Candelario not only is above average defensively at Third Base, but can play First Base as well. If someone like Trey Lipscomb or Brady House proved to be ready for the Major Leagues at any point during Candelario's tenure, Candelario would have the flexibility to switch positions. Candelario also has some power in his bat, which was an issue for the team even while Candelario was here last season. Getting Candelario would not necessarily qualify as the bargain bin shopping that Mike Rizzo and the Nationals have frequently participated in the past several offseasons, which should be a welcome sight for Nationals' fans.
The Cons are that Candelario struggled following the trade and that might be more indicative of who he is as opposed to who he was in the first half of the season while in DC. For his career, Candelario has a .739 OPS. His OPS was .823 while in Washington and dropped to .764 in his stint with the Cubs. You don't want to be in a situation where you're paying for an .800+ OPS hitter but end up with a low .700s OPS hitter. Also, I don't think anyone thinks the Nationals will be major players in Free Agency. No one knows exactly what their budget will be, but they only added about $15M to their 2023 payroll through Free Agency last offseason, most of it coming from the signings of Candelario and Trevor Williams. Lets say the budget is $20M this offseason - would you really be comfortable giving anywhere from 50 to 75% of that perceived budget to Candelario before you address any other team needs? It is not necessarily a Candelario specific issue, but if that is all we get then it might be money better spent on pitching or a bonafide power hitter and then take another flyer at Third Base. The Nationals should really just open up the checkbook so we don't have to worry about this, but the past several offseasons speak loudly as to how this offseason is likely to unfold.
So this is where I stand: if it is Candelario or nothing, give me Candelario absolutely. If the Nationals are committed to improving the team and will spend money regardless, Candelario would not be my first choice. It sort of feels like a beggars can't be choosers situation. If they do re-sign Candelario, it would already be a more aggressive offseason than anything since the offseason following the World Series. I do like the bridge at 3B with the flexibility to move elsewhere if someone else comes along, so that is a plus.
Spotrac has Candelario with a Market Value of $11.6M for 2024, which sounds about right to me. I think back to last offseason when Brandon Drury signed a 2 year, $20M deal with the Angels after a strong first half of 2022 with the Reds before struggling in the second half with the Padres, similar to Candelario's 2023 arc although Drury had better power numbers. If the Nationals can get Candelario for a 2 year, $20M deal, I think there is little risk in doing so.