MLB Insider Hector Gomez reported this weekend that Nationals third baseman Jeimer Candelario would be added to the Dominican Republic roster in the World Baseball Classic (WBC).
Candelario replaces Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays as a first baseman.
We shouldn’t dismiss the honor this is for Candelario. Surely, representing his home country playing the sport he loves has been one of his dreams for a long time.
Still, focusing specifically on how this decision impacts the Washington Nationals, there are pros and cons. The obvious downside is that he’ll be away from the team. However, I’d argue this announcement is more beneficial than detrimental for the Nationals.
More Looks For Other Players
Candelario will be Washington’s starting third baseman this season. That’s not really up for debate. It’s very unclear who the backup(s) will be, though.
Ildemaro Vargas was their primary man at the hot corner after they released Maikel Franco last season. Vargas started 43 games at third, where he played outstanding defense and hit uncharacteristically well. The Nationals likely want to stash him in a lower-usage, utility infielder role – including as their top reserve at shortstop. How much should they be willing to play him at third base?
Carter Kieboom is back in the mix, but that comes with numerous qualifiers. He’s yet to perform well in the batters box or in the field as a big leaguer, and he’s also suffered a setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He’ll return to action soon – although it’s unclear how soon – to determine whether he’s a viable option. He’s yet to play in any role beyond designated hitter this spring.
Then there are new faces like Michael Chavis and Jake Alu. Chavis has some major league experience, but hasn’t been an eye-catching hitter and is primarily a first or second baseman. Alu hasn’t reached the majors yet, but is clearly on the cusp and provides more defensive upside at third, as well as second base.
All four of them – perhaps aside from Kieboom – will get increased shares of playing time at third base while Candelario is out of the picture. Ideally, one of them will rise to the occasion.
Reps For Candelario At First Base
One of the first thoughts that came to my mind when the Nationals signed Candelario was whether he’d exclusively play third base or sprinkle in some games at first. He hasn’t played much first base in the last few seasons, but that may be a factor of the Detroit Tigers (his prior team) not utilizing him.
If nothing else, situationally moving Candelario to first base could allow the Nationals to insert a defensive upgrade at third. They may also be able to manipulate lefty-righty matchups more favorably if Candelario isn’t locked into strictly third base.
The other side of the coin is how they view Joey Meneses. Will they want to play him at first base in games that Dominic Smith doesn’t play, or should they keep him at designated hitter full time?
Perhaps if Candelario has success at the position during the WBC, the Nationals may feel more inclined to sometimes play Candelario at first base and keep Meneses off the field.
A Second Set of Eyes On Candelario
Candidly, there are questions surrounding how good the Nationals coaching staff truly is. There’s no guarantee that the conclusions they’ve reached about their own players are correct.
Maybe Rodney Linares (third base coach of the Tampa Bay Rays) and his WBC staff have a different view of Candelario. Maybe they can make him into a quality defender at first base. Either way, it’s helpful information for Washington to be equipped with.
Maybe – just maybe – one of Candelario’s WBC teammates, Juan Soto, can impart some wisdom about playing in DC, too.
Pool play of the WBC begins this week and ends March 15. The championship – which the Dominican Republic is among the favorites to reach – is March 21.
The Nationals will certainly welcome Candelario back once he’s available to return. Life goes on, though. They’ll have a chance to learn about some other players – and even him – while he’s out of the mix at third base.