Nationals Sign Former All-Star OF Jesse Winker to a Minor League Deal

When it seemed like their offseason signings were over, the Nats may have struck gold, signing Jesse Winker to a Minor League Deal
Milwaukee Brewers v Philadelphia Phillies
Milwaukee Brewers v Philadelphia Phillies / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Another year, another abysmal offseason by the Nationals post-2019, with UTL Nick Senzel, RP Dylan Floro, and OF/1B Joey Gallo being the only major league signings for a roster with more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. Scrumming at the bottom of the barrel, the Nats have made a couple of intriguing under-the-radar signings, mostly tapping into the relief market, taking flyers on a couple of names that at least avid baseball fans have heard of.

At 71-91 last year, the Nationals improved significantly from the nightmarish 107 loss season in 2022, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how could it have been much worse.

There were some fun moments last year no doubt about it, but the lack of power is by far my biggest gripe with this roster. The Joey Gallo signing was a nice start, hoping for a bounce back from a former all-star who showed last year he still has some pop, but other than that, the lineup looks pretty vanilla:

1. CJ Abrams SS

2. Lane Thomas RF

3. Joey Gallo LF

4. Joey Meneses 1B

5. Stone Garrett DH

6. Keibert Ruiz C

7. Luis Garcia Jr. 2B

8. Nick Senzel 3B

9. Victor Robles CF

The lack of depth in the organization is glaring, especially with Stone Garrett coming off a major injury and set to be the primary DH. It is clear Washington needed to make another move with so many question marks in the lineup, and that might have been solved last night.

Jesse Winker is a Washington National.

Similar to Christian Yelich, Winker has been dealing with chronic neck and back injuries the past couple of years, with Yelich taking almost three seasons to fully get back on track, although his drop-off was not nearly as bad as Winker’s.

Among qualified hitters from 2020-2021, Winker ranked 6th in the Major Leagues with a .946 OPS, just behind Freddie Freeman and Vlad Guerrero Jr, and ahead of Trea Turner and Corey Seager. Winker dominated right-handed pitching, with an OPS of over 1.000 and 31 home runs in 160 games against them. Not only was he hitting for power, but he posted great walk rates, with an on-base percentage of .392.

Those two seasons were in no way a fluke, as Winker in 413 games as a big leaguer from 2017-2021 was extremely solid, with a .288/.385/.504 slash line, assembling 6.9 fWAR. Not only was Winker an All-Star in 2021 and set to enter his prime in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, but he still trending upwards getting better every single season. Winker was crushing the ball, consistently ranking among the league leaders in a hard hit and barrel rate, while showing extreme discipline with low chase rates.

It seemed impossible at the time Winker would settle for a minor league deal going into his age 30 season just two seasons later, after proving that he was becoming one of the best hitters in baseball. Well, the impossible did happen, and Winker has been stuck in a nightmare ever since that magical 2021 season.

Winker was shipped off to the Seattle Mariners as a salary dump ahead of 2022 and put up relatively league-average numbers with the Mariners, due to his high on-base but low slugging percentage. Winker had an OPS below .700 for the first time in his career at .688, slashing .219/.344/.344 with 14 home runs in 136 games. Winker has always been bad defensively and a poor baserunner due to how slow he is, so he really has to hit. Then it seemed like he forgot how to hit 2022, and it continued into last season after being shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers.

There is no way to sugarcoat this so I will be blunt: Jesse Winker was atrocious last season. In 61 games with Milwaukee, Winker had a slash line of .199/.320/.247 for a 65 wRC+ and -0.8 fWAR. It was a far cry from Winker’s peak, and it was his second season in a row where his All-Star abilities seemed to fully diminish. Not only has Winker been injured and unproductive, but he also seems to have an attitude issue, sparking brawls while rumors fly around about his lack of work ethic. It still surprises me that he had to settle for a minor league deal, but he should be able to crack the Opening Day roster if healthy.

It appears Winker will battle with OF Alex Call, UTIL Jake Alu, and UTIL Ildemaro Vargas for the final roster spot, with Winker having the slight edge due to his history, but Vargas and Alu having a huge advantage for their versatility.

Winker is a spectacular signing this late in the offseason with little to lose, hopefully getting a shot to DH against tough right-handers in the middle of the lineup, with Stone Garrett playing every day vs lefties. Winker has a lot to prove, showing he is healthy and still can hit, or his time as a big leaguer may be over. All in all, this is extremely low risk, with a very high reward.

P.S. I am pro mustach Jesse Winker vs bearded Jesse Winker. I think an elite stache gives him an extra 2-3 bombs this year. If he breaks camp with the beard, I am a lot less confident on the bounce back.