Jeimer Candelario had multiple teams interested in him this offseason, but he said Tuesday that he chose to sign with the Nationals because he saw Washington as a destination for him to rejuvenate his career.
Candelario, a 29-year-old third baseman, hit just .217 last season in one of the worst campaigns of his career. But in 2023, he’ll be just two years removed from leading the American League in doubles.
“This is going to be a fresh start with the Nationals,” Candelario said during his introductory press conference Tuesday. “Just keep doing what I have to do. I know who I am and what I can do. Right now, this is a big opportunity for me to play every single day at third base. This is a big opportunity for me.”
Candelario signed with the Nationals in late November to a one-year, $5 million deal with an additional $1 million in potential incentives. The agreement gives the Nationals a much-needed bat, a switch-hitter and a veteran who can play both corners.
For Candelario, it gives him the opportunity to get consistent at-bats — whether at third base, first base or designated hitter — after posting a dismal .633 on-base plus slugging last year in Detroit.
“It was a lot of teams interested in my job, but I saw the opportunity and the team [the Nationals] are building right now,” said Candelario, who noted he knows Washington center fielder Victor Robles and a few other Nationals players. “I just want to contribute and they’re one of the teams that was very interested, and me and my agent decided that it was a great opportunity to play there in Washington.”
Candelario is also familiar with manager Dave Martinez, who was the bench coach with the Chicago Cubs when Candelario made his major league debut in 2016 — the year Chicago won the World Series.
“Davey Martinez is a really good leader,” Candelario said. “… I came up that year, and it was a special team. Really good coaching staff, and he was a part of that. When I got to the big leagues, he gave me a lot of confidence and talked with me.”
In his career, Candelario is a .240 hitter across 606 games in seven different seasons with the Cubs and Tigers. But in 2020 and 2021, the switch-hitter was one of the best third basemen in the American League.
Candelario hit a career-best .297 with a .503 slugging percentage in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. He then smacked an MLB-best 42 doubles and added 16 long balls while hitting .271 in 2021. Only Jose Ramirez and Manny Machado posted a higher wins above replacement from the third base position than Candelario’s 3.8 (on Baseball-Reference) in 2021.
“He’s a young player that we think is going to have a bounce back season,” general manager Mike Rizzo told reporters at the Winter Meetings last week. “He showed that for a couple seasons in a row before last year. He was a player that the needle was pointing north.”
To get back to that player, Candelario said he’s going to go back to the basics and “keep things simple.”
“I have to be consistent with the strike zone,” he said. “I know I can hit. I’ve got to be a gap-to-gap guy, and the doubles and the home runs will come. I’ve got to control the zone and control my movement and see the ball.”
One thing that could help Candelario — and most other left-handed hitters in the big leagues — is the MLB rule change banning the shift. He hit 42.6% of his balls on the ground last season and pulled the ball about 40% of the time, according to Baseball Savant. Without the infielder standing in shallow right field, Candelario is a player who could see a bump.
“That’s going to help a lot of guys, not just me,” Candelario said. “They’re not going to worry about, ‘Oh, I have to hit the ball the other way’ or ‘Oh, I have to hit a home run.’ It’s all mental. I think it’s going to take a lot of stuff from the mental side of the lefty hitters, and it’s going to be more free. You’re not going to think too much. You’re just going to hit the ball.”