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Nationals rerack roster ahead of Rule 5 draft, agree with Ildemaro Vargas

Ildemaro Vargas remained with the Nationals on a one-year deal, avoiding arbitration. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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With the Rule 5 draft looming, the Washington Nationals on Tuesday rearranged their 40-man roster and agreed to a contract with a 2022 contributor.

The Nationals placed six minor leaguers — infielder Jake Alu, outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa, right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Jake Irvin and left-handed relievers Matt Cronin and Jose Ferrer — on their 40-man roster, which protects them from being selected in the Rule 5 draft Dec. 7.

To clear roster space for those six, the Nationals designated righty Tommy Romero for assignment and sent outfielder Yadiel Hernandez, lefty Evan Lee and righty Jackson Tetreault to Class AAA Rochester after they cleared outright waivers.

Washington also agreed with infielder Ildemaro Vargas on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. Terms were not disclosed. Vargas, 31, hit .280 with three home runs and 19 RBI over 196 plate appearances in 53 games, mostly at third base.

The Nationals entered the week with 39 players on their 40-man roster. That number dropped to 38 when lefty Seth Romero, a 2017 first-round pick, was released Monday after being charged with driving while intoxicated for the second time this year. Tuesday’s shuffling set the roster at 40.

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The Rule 5 draft allows teams to select any player not on a 40-man roster who signed at 18 or younger and has been in professional baseball for five years, or who signed at 19 or older and has been in the pros for four years. The Nationals had the worst record in the majors, so they will have the first pick in this year’s Rule 5 draft.

They would need to remove a player from their 40-man roster to make a selection, and any selected player must remain on the 26-man active roster for the entire 2023 season. If that player is removed from the roster, he must be placed on waivers and made available to the other 29 clubs. And if he clears waivers, he must be offered back to his original club.

Alu, 25, has impressed with his power numbers; he hit 20 home runs in 2022, including 11 after being called up to Rochester. He and Cronin, 25, are the only players among the 40-man roster additions who have played for the Red Wings; Cronin made 34 relief appearances. Rutledge, a 23-year-old who was a first-round pick in 2019, spent 2022 with low Class A Fredericksburg. De La Rosa is an intriguing outfield prospect but has only reached high Class A Wilmington. Ferrer and Irvin finished last season with Class AA Harrisburg.

Perhaps the most notable Nationals prospect who was not protected from the Rule 5 draft is catcher Drew Millas, a 24-year-old who had a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League after advancing to Harrisburg last season.