Nationals trade Jeimer Candelario to Cubs for two prospects

With the trade deadline less than 24 hours away, the Washington Nationals made their first move an expected one Monday night by dealing third baseman Jeimer Candelario to the contending Chicago Cubs. The Nationals, who also sent cash considerations to Chicago, received two prospects in return: 22-year-old left-hander DJ Herz and 20-year-old shortstop Kevin Made.

Candelario, a 29-year-old pending free agent, signed a one-year contract with the Nationals in the offseason after spending the previous five-plus seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Following a down year, he bounced back to hit .258 with 16 home runs and 53 RBI in 99 games while playing nearly every day at third base. Candelario was always a likely trade candidate, but he said over the weekend that he was trying not to think about it.

“I know there’s a lot of news,” he said Sunday. “Right now, I want to live day by day. That keeps me calm, and that keeps me in the game the right way. For me, it’s just … thinking how you can help your team win a ballgame. For me, that’s more important, and everything is going to take care of itself.”

In the clubhouse before Monday’s victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, Candelario sat at his locker and chatted with second baseman Luis García, outfielder Victor Robles, infielder Ildemaro Vargas and Gerardo Parra, the former fan favorite who’s now a special assistant to General Manager Mike Rizzo. Soon after, García and Vargas left to get ready for the game, but Candelario remained by his locker a bit longer.

Candelario was not in the lineup; Vargas filled in at third. Manager Dave Martinez acknowledged that he and Rizzo wanted to sideline Candelario to avoid injury — and in case he was traded before the game.

“It’s a tough time of year. The trade deadline is up — we’ve been through this before — so we’ll see what happens here in the next couple days,” Martinez said before the trade. “[Candelario] plays the game the right way. He’s been awesome for our young players.”

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Candelario was the first Nationals player to be moved ahead of the trade deadline, which is 6 p.m. Tuesday. (The Brewers also were active before the game, acquiring first baseman/outfielder Mark Canha from the retooling New York Mets for a pitching prospect.) To fill Candelario’s roster spot, Washington will promote third baseman Jake Alu from Class AAA Rochester, according to a person familiar with the team’s plans. Alu, 26, made his major league debut in May, going 3 for 14 in five games.

The Cubs selected Herz in the eighth round of the 2019 draft out of a North Carolina high school and then went well over slot to sign him — and convince him not to attend the University of North Carolina. He has a 3.97 ERA in 14 starts at Class AA this season. He has impressive strikeout numbers — 12.2 per nine innings — but also has walked 5.6 per nine, so he will need better command to be effective at the major league level. He gets a lot of swings-and-misses, primarily relying on a low- to mid-90s fastball and a deceptive change-up while mixing in a slider. ranked him the Cubs’ No. 16 prospect.

Made, a native of the Dominican Republic, signed with the Cubs for $1.5 million in 2019 but didn’t make his debut in pro ball until 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic. This season, he’s hitting .240 with a .328 on-base percentage and a .355 slugging percentage in his first full season in high Class A. He is young for the level, but he has struck out in just 18 percent of his plate appearances while walking in 10 percent. He is considered a gifted defender who could play all over the diamond in a utility role; ranked him the Cubs’ No. 14 prospect.

Herz and Made are eligible for the Rule 5 draft for the first time this year, meaning the Nationals would need to place them on the 40-man roster by this offseason to avoid potentially losing them.

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Chicago signed Candelario out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. The switch hitter made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2016, and he played 16 games with them between that season and the next. But he was buried on a talented roster that was contending for World Series trips — and won it all in 2016 for the first time in 108 years — so the Cubs flipped him to the Tigers for veterans in July 2017. This year’s Cubs entered Monday having won eight of nine to emerge as a contender after an underwhelming start.

“He put the work in,” said Martinez, who was the Cubs’ bench coach when Candelario debuted. “We could all sit here and take credit for it, but it’s all on him and what he’s done throughout the spring and the summer. I had a lot of faith that he’d come here and he’d be the guy … to help our young kids understand how to play the game. He’s done that, and he’s done really well for himself.”

After Monday’s 5-3 victory, Candelario’s locker — which is in a clubhouse spot typically reserved for a veteran — was cleared out except for a handful of hangers and dust. His old teammates had prevailed without him.

“There was speculation. You heard the rumors of a possible trade, so it didn’t necessarily catch me off guard,” designated hitter Joey Meneses, who had the go-ahead hit in the seventh inning, said through an interpreter. “Most of us were kind of waiting for it, but great teammate. We’re going to miss him. Great person, great ballplayer.”

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