Quick Links

Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13


Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Catcher...

Stats: 25 G, 96 PA, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .265 AVG, .354 OBP, .398 SLG
1 E, 17% CS, 0.6 WAR
2012 salary: $491,250
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: In his second full year in the big leagues, Ramos looked poised to breakout as one of the game's best young catchers. But his season ended in abrupt fashion May 12 in Cincinnati when he tore the ACL in his right knee, leaving him to start all over again in 2013. The Nationals have every reason to believe Ramos will return 100 percent healthy and pick up where he left off, but there are no guarantees. With Kurt Suzuki now in the fold as well, the club may ease Ramos back into playing shape and have the two split time behind the plate.

Stats (w/WSH only): 43 G, 164 PA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .267 AVG, .321 OBP, .404 SLG
3 E, 15% CS, 0.8 WAR (combined OAK+WSH)
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: $6.45 million in 2013, $8.5 million club option in 2014 (guaranteed at $9.25 million if he starts 113 games in 2013)
Where he fits in: Acquired from the A's on Aug. 3 out of desperation following a string of injuries to their catching corps, Suzuki proved far more than a stop-gap solution behind the plate. He turned into one of the Nationals' best clutch hitters down the stretch and developed instant rapport with the pitching staff. Because he's already signed for next season at a healthy price, he's guaranteed to make the club. And given the uncertain nature of Ramos' recovery from his knee injury, Suzuki could wind up the safer bet to see playing time come Opening Day.

Stats: 83 G, 296 PA, 6 HR, 26 RBI, .213 AVG, .248 OBP, .329 SLG
4 E, 15% CS, 0.0 WAR
2012 salary: $815,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: It was only a few years ago that Flores was considered the organization's long-term answer behind the plate. A major shoulder injury -- plus the acquisitions of Ramos and Suzuki put an end to that line of thinking, and now Flores looks like a man who will be without a job come 2013. Assuming both Ramos and Suzuki are healthy, there won't be a spot on the Nationals' roster for Flores. That makes him a prime trade candidate, or -- if a deal can't be worked out -- a potential non-tender candidate before the Nov. 30 deadline.

Stats: 12 G, 36 PA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .267 AVG, .389 OBP, .333 SLG
1 E, 14% CS, 0.0 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Summoned straight from Class AA Harrisburg to take Ramos' roster spot, Leon wound up suffering a bad ankle sprain only four innings into his big-league career. He came back later in the season and saw a little bit of playing time, but he's still likely to need some more seasoning before he's truly ready to be a full-time big-leaguer. The Nationals love his skills behind the plate, though, and he's certainly qualified to fill in should something happen to the guys above him on the depth chart.

Stats: 12 G, 37 PA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .314 AVG, .351 OBP, .571 SLG
0 E, 38% CS, 0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Like Leon, Solano was a surprise call-up to the big-league roster, his presence needed only because of all the injuries sustained to the rest of the club's catching corps. The 27-year-old affectionately known to teammates as "Onion" impressed in his limited playing time, flashing a solid bat. He wound up dealing with his own injuries, then finished the year in the minors. Solano will likely be ticketed for Class AAA Syracuse again in 2013.

Nearly every catcher in the organization found his way onto the big-league roster at some point this year, so there's not much left in the system. Veteran Carlos Maldonado is a well-respected catcher, but he's not a prospect by any stretch of the imagination. David Freitas was highly regarded at Class A Potomac, but he was dealt to Oakland in exchange for Suzuki. Adrian Nieto, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has only two games of experience above low-Class A Hagerstown. The Nationals used their fifth-round pick in this year's draft on Spencer Kieboom from Clemson.

The Nationals certainly don't need to add any more catchers from outside the organization. They just need to figure out who gets the No. 1 job. If Ramos proves he's healthy in spring training, it would be tough not to give him his starting job back. He's got far more upside than Suzuki, both offensively and defensively. At the same time, the Nationals can't discount what Suzuki did for them down the stretch while understanding he's historically performed better when playing on a regular basis. As for Flores, it would appear his time with the organization is over, a disappointing end to a once-promising career.

Quick Links

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Report: Under Armour taking over MLB jerseys in 2020

Majestic’s reign as the maker of MLB jerseys are about to come to an end. 

In 2020, Fanatics and Under Armour will be teaming to make on-field jerseys and apparel for all MLB teams, according to a Sports Business Journal report. 

The news outlet also reports that the deal means the MLB’s licensing relations with Nike will be over as well. 

Under Armour will produce the jerseys starting in Spring Training of the 2020 season, and “broad apparel rights” will go to Fanatics. 

New Era will continue to be the maker of MLB hats. 

Given that Maryland native Kevin Plank founded Under Armour, and that the business' headquarters are in Baltimore, it’s sure to be a splash with baseball fans in the DMV.

You can read the full Sports Business journal report here. 

Quick Links

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Early look at the Nationals' biggest questions this offseason

Here is an early look at the biggest questions facing the Washington Nationals as they embark on another offseason in their quest to build a championship team...

What to do with Wilson Ramos and the catcher position?

The Nationals' biggest question entering this offseason is without a doubt at catcher with All-Star Wilson Ramos on the mend after having the ACL in his right knee repaired on Friday. Not only is the recovery a long one - he could be out until well into the 2017 season - it is the second time he's had the ligament fixed. At 29, his viability as a primary catcher moving forward is a real question. Even Ramos admitted he may have to transition to the American League with his next contract.

If Ramos does leave, behind him will be a significant hole on the Nationals. They have several in-house options, but none that are anywhere close to Ramos, who emerged this season as the best offensive catcher in baseball. Pedro Severino is a nice young player, but has a career .632 OPS in the minors. The drop-off on offense from Ramos to him would be significant. The same can be said about Jose Lobaton.

It won't be easy replacing Ramos with an external option, if that's the way the Nats opt to go. Catchers who can hit and play defense like him are a rarity. Matt Wieters of the Orioles would be the best option in free agency, but he's a year older and is also a step down offensively. Unless they like Wieters - who does happen to be represented by Scott Boras - they may have to trade for a new backstop, and that won't be easy either. 

This is all not to rule out the Nationals re-signing Ramos, but right now it's difficult to project what type of contract he will garner and whether that could fit in their plans. Surely it would be tough for them to offer a long-term deal, but maybe they make sense if he decides to take a short-term contract to reset for free agency either next offseason or the one after that.

Any major upgrades needed?

The Nationals are in an interesting spot, having won 95 games and the NL East, but with yet another disappointing end to their year. General manager Mike Rizzo loves to make big splashes in the offseason. Every single winter he does something aggressive and unexpected. What will he do this year? There aren't many areas where he could potentially upgrade, but that hasn't stopped him in the past.

If Ramos leaves, catcher is obviously the biggest need. But beyond that, the two major problem areas in their lineup this season were at shortstop and first base. Danny Espinosa played solid defense and hit 24 homers, but held an unsightly .209 batting average. His .552 OPS in the second half was worst in baseball among those with at least 165 at-bats. 

Espinosa is always looking over his shoulder this time of the year and just this past winter appeared to be the odd-man out when the Nats traded for Ben Revere and signed Daniel Murphy. Espinosa managed to overcome the odds and play 157 games. He has one year left on his contract, so one way or another the Nats will need to start thinking long-term about his position.

Shortstop is an easier situation to evaluate than first base, where Ryan Zimmerman is due to make $14 million each of the next two seasons and $18 million the year after that. He had the worst season of his career with a .642 OPS through 115 games. Bringing in a first baseman to flat-out replace Zimmerman seems unrealistic, given his contract. But perhaps they can find someone who plays both first base and left field, with Jayson Werth having just one year left on his deal.

Who will be the closer?

The Nationals found success in the ninth inning with Mark Melancon after they acquired him at the trade deadline in a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But it was just a rental. Now Melancon is due for free agency and the Nats once again have questions at the position. They could opt to re-sign Melancon, or go with another free agent option. Aroldis Chapman, whom they have coveted in the past, will be available. So will Kenley Jansen, who just helped end their season with the Dodgers. It's an unusually deep crop of star closers and it would be a surprise if the Nationals didn't snag one of them. Another option would be to promote Shawn Kelley or Blake Treinen, but that would be out of the Nationals' character.

Are they content with the rotation?

If one were to pick the biggest reason the Nationals lost their NL Division Series against the Dodgers it would have to be the starting rotation. It was their most glaring weakness and it wasn't even close. This is despite the Nats being built on starting pitching and boasting one of the best regular season rotations in baseball. Losing Stephen Strasburg to injury didn't help, but they still had four capable starters left over. Max Scherzer struggled in Game 1, while Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross combined to pitch just 11 1/3 innings in their respective outings. 

If you look at the year as a whole, starting pitching was not a major concern. But the Nats are always aggressive in addressing their needs, whether big or small. They have top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, but neither distinguished themselves this season. Do they sit tight and hope things improve, or do they try to make another game-changing move? With a weak free agent class, any outside upgrade would have to come through a trade. Also, Gonzalez' $12 million team option is definitely something to watch this winter.

Will extension talks with Harper heat up?

Both the Nationals and Bryce Harper, one could argue, may have incentive to back away from the negotiating table this winter, given the Nats have to be less confident in giving Harper a record-setting contract after his disappointing year, and that Harper may not be wise to sign his new deal when his stock has lowered. But if the Nats and Harper do not come to terms this winter, that sets up a lot more pressure for the following offseason. Harper has two years left on his contract. Heading into next offseason without a deal, with just one year remaining, would create a lot of uncertainty for all sides involved, including the fans who certainly want to see the 2015 MVP remain in Washington for a long time. The storyline would dominate their offseason.

This upcoming winter always seemed like the best time to broker a deal to avoid that scenario, but the timing has not worked out with Harper's production on the field. Also, would anyone be surprised if it turns out Harper was dealing with an injury this season that held him back at the plate? If it were a serious one, he wouldn't have kept playing. But any injury has to be factored in those discussions.

[RELATED: Bullpen, baserunning leads to Nats heartbreak]