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Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13

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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...

C WILSON RAMOS
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.

C KURT SUZUKI
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.

C JESUS FLORES
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.

C SANDY LEON
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.

C JHONATAN SOLANO
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.

IN THE MINORS
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.

OFFSEASON NEED?
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.

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Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

Trea Turner is ready to step in and play center field for Nats if needed

With the expected return of first baseman Ryan Zimmerman on Tuesday, there will be some shuffling on the Nats roster, most notably with Trea Turner getting bumped from their infield.

Zimmerman, despite his .221/.284/.402 slash this year, is going right back into the starting lineup. He's a proven veteran, went 5-for-12 on his rehab assignment and manager Dusty Baker has already confirmed that plan, not that it needed to be done.

"I've got to get Zim back in the lineup. He’s a big part of our offense. And certainly, if I get Zim back in the lineup, that means [Daniel] Murphy is at second base," Baker said.

Turner will be out of the infield mix, but with Michael Taylor going back to Triple-A Syracuse, the door may be open for Turner to play some in the outfield. A lifelong middle infielder, Turner has been learning center field recently. He played six games there at Syracuse and has been doing outifled drills for several weeks now. 

Turner has shown in recent games the impact he can make offensively. He has 11 hits and four steals in his last nine games and in his last five outings alone has three triples and five runs. The Nats have seen the worst production of any team from their leadoff spot with a dead-last .586 OPS collectively. Taylor's now gone and Ben Revere's still hitting just .216 through 61 games.

"Now we've just got to try to find [Turner's] place with Zim coming back, find a place for him to play," Baker said.

If that is in center field, Turner feels ready to step in. 

"I did it in Syracuse and I'll do it here if they need me to," he said. "It's something that I've embraced, I guess. It's something that I'll do if they need me to. I'll continue to work out there whenever they give me the chance. On days I don't play, I go out there and shag some balls just to make sure I'm staying on top of it. It hasn't happened yet, but if it does I'll be ready."

Six games in Triple-A, of course, is not a lot of action at a brand new position. Whenever Turner does play in center field, there will be a learning curve and perhaps a noticeable drop-off from Revere. But Turner feels he did well in those six chances and can build off that experience.

"[I did] fine. I think I got a couple tough balls hit at me, line drives, and I made the right decisions at the time. I made all the plays that came to me. At the same time, I know it's not as easy as that. You've gotta play balls off the wall. In big league ballparks, it's going to be a lot different everywhere you go. Guys are a lot stronger, so they hit the ball a little bit farther. You've gotta take all that into account as well and learn," he said.

Baker himself has expressed confidence in Turner's ability to transition to the outfield. Earlier this month he offered a comparison to Robin Yount, a Hall of Famer who began his career as a shortstop before moving to center field. Yount won MVPs at both positions.

Zimmerman's return could simply mean Turner is heading back to the bench, ready to step in to give a Nats infielder a day off or wait for pinch-run opportunities. If that's the case, Turner believes he can still make an impact.

"Just keep it simple and do your job, whatever they ask," he said. "I'm still learning. I think you can always figure out ways to come off the bench and take advantage of those opportunities. If I have to do that, running is going to be a huge key. I think that's just a matter of stretching and paying attention by watching video on pitchers in case you get a stolen base opportunity, or whatever it may be."

[RELATED: For Giolito: 'It’s back to the drawing board']

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What Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs means for the Nationals

What Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs means for the Nationals

After a weekend full of rumors and speculation, it appears as if Yankees' flamethrower Aroldis Chapman is in fact headed to Chicago to join the Cubs.

The Yankees will reportedly send the closer to "The Windy City" in exchange for highly prized 19-year-old shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres as well as outfield prospects Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford and reliever Adam Warren, according to multiple reports

The Nationals were one of the other two teams in the mix for Chapman's services, but the organization was not willing to give up the amount of young talent the Yankees wanted in return.

RELATED: WHO SHOULD THE NATIONALS TARGET AT THE TRADE DEADLINE?

With Chapman — and his 105 MPH fastball — off the table, there are two questions that need to be addressed: 1) Where do the nationals go from here and 2) Did the Cubs just become unstoppable?

The market for elite or even high-end pitching at the trade deadline is at an all-time low this season.

Chapman was the top prize, and after him, the drop off is quite significant.

Both of the Nationals' playoff appearances have ended with late-game pitching blunders and it has become clear that Jonathan Papelbon, while competent as a closer, is far from a shutdown reliever, and a patchwork unit of Sammy Solis, Shaun Kelly, Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez doesn't yet appear to be stable enough to handle an entire postseason run.

The issue for the Nationals is that in order to acquire a closer like, Wade Davis of the Royals, the team will have to be willing to give up at least two of their highly prized young stars like Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez.. If the team was unwilling to do so for Chapman, would the do it for Davis? 

If the Nationals do think they are just "one piece away," they could give up far less for someone like Brewers' closer Jeremy Jeffress, who has a 2.23 ERA with 23 saves and 30 strikeouts this season.

But again, the playoffs.

Jeffress is in just his second full season in the big leagues and what the Nationals need isn't just a talent closer, but one who won't get rattled in big moments and can close the door when the pressure is on.

As for the Cubs, getting Chapman is expected to be the final piece to the 108-year puzzle.

If the Nationals want to make the World Series, they will — more likely than not — have to go through Wrigley Field. The Cubs made it very clear during their early Mary series that they will not let Bryce Harper beat them. They also made it very clear that opposing pitchers cannot make more than a single mistake.

Now that the Cubs solidified their bullpen with the hardest-throwing pitcher in professional baseball, no matter how good the Nationals are — and they are very good — they may need some October magic to stop the Cubs from representing the National League in the World Series.

RELATED: UPDATED MLB POWER RANKINGS

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MLB Trade Rumors: Who should the Nationals target before the deadline?

MLB Trade Rumors: Who should the Nationals target before the deadline?

BY JEREMY FIALKOW (@JeremyFialkow)

The Nationals may be good — very good — but they're not perfect, not yet. 

With the trade deadline fast approaching, GM Mike Rizzo's hunt to turn the roster he assembled into a legitimate World Series contender will grab the spotlight.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NATIONALS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS

There's speculation around the league that Rizzo's plans start and end with adding a commanding bullpen arm, capable of shortening each game by three outs, at least.

Nevertheless, Washington has the assets on hand and in their farm system to secure anyone they fancy, whether it's an arm, a bat ... or both.

Fortunately for baseball fans (but unfortunately for the Nats) the 2016 season has been competitive all around, leaving teams deemed surefire sellers few and far between.

Still, Rizzo's team is in a desirable position with the always appreciated ability of flexibility, so which players will the Nats target before the July 31 trade deadline.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NATIONALS' TOP TRADE DEADLINE TARGETS