Nats cap Winter Meetings with busy Rule 5 Draft

December 6th, 2023

NASHVILLE -- The 2023 Winter Meetings wrapped with a flurry of movement from the Nationals on Wednesday afternoon.

While current Major League options for the 2024 roster were discussed throughout the week, it was in the Rule 5 Draft that the Nats made a quick series of transactions.

The Nationals selected shortstop Nasim Nuñez, a 2019 second-round pick, from the Marlins in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft, then added four other prospects -- three right-handers and a center fielder -- in the Minor League phase on the final day of the annual meetings.

Read on to see which boxes the Nats checked, which areas of the roster still have to be addressed and the team’s outlook for the 2024 season.

1. Third base: General manager Mike Rizzo said of the starting third base role, “We’ll explore it externally, for sure.” One free agent to keep in mind is veteran Jeimer Candelario, who had a bounceback season in Washington before being traded to the Cubs at the Trade Deadline. Candelario was a positive clubhouse presence who enjoyed his time in D.C., and he also has a longstanding relationship with manager Dave Martinez from their time together in Chicago.

2. First base: An early plan is for Joey Meneses to split time between first base and designated hitter. The Nationals are looking for a player who can both help supplement that plan and add power to the lineup. One candidate to contend for the role in Spring Training will be Juan Yepez, who agreed to a Minor League deal on Wednesday, per a source. Yepez, 25, was non-tendered by the Cardinals in November.

3. Starting pitching: The Nationals would have a returning starting rotation in place if the season began today, but they are also exploring options to enhance it. If Washington added a new starter, the team could shift Trevor Williams to the bullpen, where he has some experience.

“Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport,” said Rizzo. “We’re no different. You can never have enough of it, and we’re in search of it.”

The Nationals began their busy Rule 5 Draft by selecting Nuñez (Miami’s No. 16 prospect) with the fifth overall pick. He enters Washington’s system as its No. 23 prospect.

“It was bittersweet,” Nuñez said on a conference call. “Coming up through the Marlins' organization, I created so many bonds with my teammates, the coaches and even the medical staff and everybody else that was there. So it was kind of a wave of emotions of not wanting to leave, but knowing that there’s an opportunity out there for me to pursue my dreams.”

Nuñez, 23, slashed .225/.341/.286 with a .627 OPS, five home runs and 52 stolen bases in 125 games with Double-A Pensacola last season. Though he has some defensive versatility, the Nats envision Nuñez's best fit being at shortstop.

“Good scouting reports on him, we’ve seen him a lot,” said Rizzo. “ ... Terrific defensively, he plays elite-level shortstop -- arm range, hands, he can play anywhere in the middle of the field and [a] big-time basestealer. We think that there’s some upside with the bat. The bat’s far behind the defense, but a guy that we think has more bat in there. Takes his walks, he’s pretty selective at the plate.

“It was something that we were really trying to get as many toolsy players up the middle of the field as possible, and we thought this was a way to get some kind of an elite type of tools player onto the roster.”

In the Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the Nationals selected right-handers Samuel Vasquez (Guardians), Wander Arias (Royals) and Daison Acosta (Mets), as well as center fielder Moises Gallardo (A's).

“Our goal is never to win 71 games. Our goal is to win a division, to win a world championship -- and I feel that we took a step in the right direction last year toward doing that. We’re going to try and facilitate another roster that allows us to take another step forward and get into the action with a terrific division that we have to deal with. We understand the challenges in front of us, and I think we’re a capable group. You’ve seen in the past what we’ve done, and I think that we’re going to be able to do it in the future.” -- Rizzo