Last season, the Washington Nationals named Lane Thomas as their Player of the Year, and yesterday the team announced that he earned that honor again for this season. Certainly after the trade of Jeimer Candelario with his .823 OPS and the injury of Stone Garrett with his .801 OPS, it would be a battle between Thomas and CJ Abrams for the team’s POY or as some call it — the MVP. If you go by BBRef, they have Abrams with the edge at a +3.6 WAR over Thomas with a +3.3 WAR. By FanGraphs’ calculation of WAR, Candelario is STILL the team’s WAR leader at +3.1 with Thomas at +2.7 and Abrams at +2.4. Yes, WAR is a formula that differs in the calculation at every turn. There is no standard in the WAR calculation.
Is Candelario the Nats’ MVP in absentia? He did not ask to be traded to the Chicago Cubs. That deal netted general manager Mike Rizzo a lefty starter in DJ Herz as well as infielder Kevin Made. If Herz turns into a star for the team, this will be a trade that we will talk about as glowingly as Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps back at the 2010 trade deadline.
When you compare Thomas and Abrams, you have very similar players in that they are power and speed guys with some highlight reel defense. Both are closing in on 20/20 seasons with Thomas just one stolen base away from that milestone, and Abrams just two home runs from reaching the 20/20 Club that only includes Alfonso Soriano, Ian Desmond, and Bryce Harper in Nats’ history. But given Abrams’ age, 22, what he is doing is certainly groundbreaking. His numbers in all of baseball is historic for players his age with at least 18 home runs and 40 stolen bases — the Club only has membership for five players since 1900.
Those numbers make Abrams so special in that peer group with Mike Trout, Cesar Cedeno, Corbin Carroll, and Alex Rodriguez. Since MVPs are not voted by age as a factor, Thomas probably has the slight edge over Abrams for the team’s player of the year honor due to Thomas having that .791 OPS and his 111 wRC+ that exceed Abrams by a wide margin.
Maybe just maybe Rizzo can look at an opportunity to acquire Candelario as a free agent given his positional flexibility, and what we know he could do for the Nats as they build around Abrams and Thomas for the near-future and look towards catcher Keibert Ruiz and top prospects James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, Yohandy Morales, and Robert Hassell III for future thump in the Nats’ lineup. At some point next season, Garrett will return from his leg injury and add back an immediate power bat.
Playoff contention? Playoffs? Manager Dave Martinez believes that playoff contention is possible. He should. Contending for a playoff spot is no guarantee that you will actually make it. Look at the five teams contending right now for an NL Wild Card spot — only three will make it, and the other two will not. They all were in legitimate contention. As we wrote a few days ago, “by adding just a few upgrades to this roster could make a 2024 Nats’ team a legitimate contender for a Wild Card team in the same way the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Reds are this season. Look where each of those teams were last year at 74, 74, 69, and 62 wins respectively.” Also do not think that those teams bought their way into contention — the Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Reds were all well into the bottom-half of spenders.
The Nats’ manager thinks that both Abrams and Thomas have plenty of room to improve for the future. He knows he has other players who can improve too, plus he has that stacked farm system. With a young team in a rebuild, it will all be about positive development and key acquisitions moving forward. While you cannot count on new acquisitions, you can feel good about the team’s improvement and take any optimism you want from Martinez as he looks forward to the future.