The Washington Nationals are a team that has a very good foundation and very few holes to fill this MLB offseason. But that does not mean they are completely free of spots in need of an upgrade. The team will be on the hunt for a closer, a shortstop or center fielder (depending on what they want to do with Trea Turner) and of course a catcher. Late in the 2016 season, catcher Wilson Ramos went down with a torn ACL and is now set to be a free agent.
On the teams, current roster, Jose Lobaton, and Pedro Severino are in line to be the teams, two catchers. Lobaton is essentially a career backup catcher and is would make catcher an extremely sore spot on a team looking to contend for the World Series in 2017. In 2016 he batted .232 with three home runs over the course of 99 at bats. Behind him, Severino showed some nice promise in his short 2016 stint. In only 28 at-bats, he hit .321 with two homers. The problem is this was simply a small sample that would not live up to a whole season, as the 23-year-old is a defensive minded catcher who never did much with his bat in the minors. So without question, the Nationals will be looking for an upgrade this winter.
On the free agent market, Matt Wieters is the primary name out there. Given he stands above the rest of the field, he will draw the most competition, with the likes of the Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, and several other clubs after his services. And at the end of the day, the soon to be 31-year-old signal caller is not an option that is going to wow people, and the Nats should not feel the need to overspend for him. Ramos will be out there, but given he will need to miss some time to start the season, and some are questioning if he can even catch moving forward. The next best option on the free agent market is Jason Castro, which goes to show this market simply is not very deep.
This could very well lead the Nationals to the trade market to improve behind the dish. The Nats could give the San Diego Padres a call, and bring Derek Norris back to the Nation’s Capital, where he began his career. But Norris hit below .200 in 2016, and the team would be counting on a big bounce back that is far from a lock. Or they could turn to the World Series champs, the Chicago Cubs, and acquire Miguel Montero, who will be in a contract year. But once again, this 33-year-old is not exactly bringing teams out of the woodworks trying to acquire him given his sub-par statistics. One final option would require a call to Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees.
In 2016, Gary Sanchez emerged on the scene and cemented his spot in the everyday lineup for the Bronx Bombers moving forward thanks to 20 home runs in just 201 at bats. As a result, Brian McCann has become very much available. As things stand, McCann would serve as the Yankees designated hitter, but he is very much available. Cashman has already made talked to McCann’s agent about a possible move this winter, and the club has been in contact with the likes of Kendrys Morales, signaling they are looking at players who could slot into the DH slot. You can read more about that here.
McCann, while not the top five catcher in baseball like he once was with the Atlanta Braves, still provides plenty of pop in his bat. The soon to be 33 years old hit 20 home runs and slugged .413. He has hit at least 20 long balls in every season since 2008, while just missing in 2007 with 18. Sure he strikes out a bit, which brings his average down, but he does what is expected of him. He is owed 17 million dollars for each of the next two seasons, with a club option in 2019 for another 15 million bucks.
And the Yankees have a mission this winter. That mission is to add talented arms, especially to their starting rotation, which is in pretty rough shape. The Yankees are prioritizing pitchers this offseason, which the NY Daily News points out here. Just so happens the Nationals have quite a few young arms, and enough depth to part with one of them for the home run hitting catcher.
The top of the Nats rotation will be held down by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Now Strasburg missed the end of the 2016 season thanks to an elbow issue but is expected to be ready to go come Spring Training. After their two aces, Tanner Roark proved himself to be a very capable number three, posting a 2.83 ERA and winning 16 games last season. The team just extended a qualifying offer to Gio Gonzalez, meaning there’s a good bet he will be their number four. After that, the team has a handful of young guys for the final spot.
Joe Ross is a 23-year-old he looked solid before getting hurt in 2016. The former first rounder will certainly have a leg up on the competition and posted a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts. Then there is Lucas Giolito, the teams big time starting pitcher prospect. The 22-year-old is a flamethrower who is the team’s best prospect, but he struggled in his first taste of big league action, posting a 6.75 ERA in 21 and a third innings. Then there is Reynaldo Lopez, who is also a 22-year-old fire-baller who struggled in a small sample size but was decent enough to be given a slot on the postseason roster. In addition, A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth are all young names that could see starts in 2017.
So when all the names are thrown together, the Nationals have 10 pitchers who they could conceivably use in their 2017 starting rotation. So even if Strasburg misses more time like he has become known for, and the team wanted to shop Gio Gonzalez, they have plenty of depth. Those young starters are exactly what the Yankees are looking for.
The Yankees were rumored to have an interest in Giolito in 2016, as his name came up in Andrew Miller talks. Given Miller is a bigger name than McCann, I would not expect the Nats to part with him. But Ross or Lopez could certainly be involved in a deal for the catcher.
The National’s will certainly recognize their depth and use it to their advantage. Using one of those young arms to add a 20 home run hitter behind the plate will lighten the blow of losing Ramos. Sure McCann will not hit for the same average as Ramos did, but he will match his power numbers and help provide an extra presence in the team’s lineup. The Nats and Yankees are the perfect matches this winter for trade partners. With McCann set to be moved, the Nationals would be making a very solid move to jump in and use one of their young arms to bring him back to the National League East.