If there is ever an example of a team committing to a hard choice, it is the Washington Nationals in their recent trade with the Chicago White Sox.
As the Washington Nationals enter the National League Division Series, all eyes are on whether they can finally win a postseason series. The club’s health in recent weeks complicates the picture against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the pieces are in place for a competitive first round matchup.
The resumé of Dusty Baker is one that elicits sharp debate. Depending upon one’s interpretation, he’s either an under-appreciated leader with over 1,700 wins and an impeccable ability for handling a clubhouse, or he’s notoriously prone to bad in-game decisions and just happens to be in the right places at the right time.
On Saturday, our esteemed Erin Flynn noted on SI.com that the Washington Nationals are receiving plenty of reinforcements from their farm system. Trea Turner has lived up to his expectations, and the Nationals were recently helped by a solid start from A.J. Cole.
One player Erin mentioned, however, stands out: reliever Koda Glover. Between the majors and the minors this year, the hard-throwing right-hander has been consistently dominant, making a case that the Nationals should rely on him for the postseason.
Perhaps the most succinct way to describe Jonathan Papelbon’s time with the Washington Nationals is that it was never meant to be. On Saturday, reports surfaced that the Nationals informed Papelbon of their plans to designate him for assignment, leading him to ask for his release instead. In a sense, any outcome that leads to Papelbon’s departure is not a hard a decision, given the circumstances faced by both team and player.
Coming into this year, it seemed that Wilson Ramos’ time with the Washington Nationals was winding down. The talented but often injured catcher was coming off the worst offensive season of his career and looked likely to get lost in the shuffle.
This season has presented a different case, however. In the midst of what is by far his most productive year, Ramos enters Tuesday’s action with a .338/.387/.556 triple-slash line, 18 homers (already a career-high), and a 147 OPS+. Both the Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs version of WAR put him just under a total of four, which is another career-high.
One year is just that — one year — but it might be enough for the Nationals to bring Ramos back long term. Ramos, who turns 30 on Thursday, has a few factors working against him on the free agent market, but a four-year deal seems like a reasonable target, perhaps with a salary in the $15-$17 million range. (Brian McCann’s five year deal with the New York Yankees is my model, cutting one year off because of Ramos’ injury history.)
Agreeing to a long-term deal with Ramos is not ideal in some respects, because of his injury history and the fact that — if his offense takes a dive — his defense will not be enough to offset the decline. Yet, it may play out in a scenario in which both player and team find that a reunion is a mutually beneficial option.
The ability to sustain a high value could prove tough for Ramos over the length of the contract, but that might not stop the Nationals. For starters, even if he fails to live up to this year’s production, Ramos is still likely to contribute more offensively than the typical catcher. He is also familiar with the pitching staff, which gives him an advantage in an organization where there is no obvious replacement for the starting role.
The Nationals work hard at developing catchers, but as the farm system stands, the team is faced with several good options defensively, including Triple-A Syracuse’s Pedro Severino and Double-A Harrisburg’s Spencer Kieboom. However, neither has developed offensively to the point where they stand out as major-league ready starting catchers.
For Ramos, the reason for returning may turn out to be equally compelling. The upcoming offseason’s market for catchers is similar to ones of past years—loaded with names, but thin on talent. Of the prospective free agent catchers, the best comp to Ramos might be Matt Wieters, whose offensive production has taken a dive in recent weeks. The Baltimore Orioles seem unlikely to replace Wieters with an expensive option, and there are no obvious potential matches for Ramos. (I’m assuming that Jonathan Lucroy’s $5.25 million club option will be picked up by the Texas Rangers.)
Perhaps an unforeseen team will include Ramos as part of a spending spree, but recent history suggests that that is not always the end-all solutions—just ask this year’s Arizona Diamondbacks, or last year’s San Diego Padres. Furthermore, the free agent market as a whole is not particularly robust, so whatever resources teams have might not go toward a catcher approaching 30 and instead be allocated in a trade.
There are a lot of unknown variables that could play out over the next several months. For now, however, it seems like Ramos is bound to stay in DC a little longer.
Given where the market was expected to go, few could have foreseen the price the Washington Nationals paid to acquire Mark Melancon. In exchange for the three-time All-Star, the Nationals sent the Pittsburgh Pirates a major-league reliever in Felipe Rivero and a solid, but unheralded prospect in Taylor Hearn, a package much smaller in terms of quantity and quality than many expected.
Prior to this season, the Federal Reserve delivered a ranking of the top-10 prospects for the Washington Nationals. With the minor league campaign now past its halfway point, I’m revisiting the list to update the statuses of each player.
Michael Taylor’s sometimes promising but largely inconsistent time in the majors was halted on Monday, when the Washington Nationals optioned the outfielder to Triple-A Syracuse. While the move was needed to clear space for reliever Jonathan Papelbon as he returned from the 15-day DL, it does raise some interesting questions about Taylor’s role with the team.