Comfortable as the Washington Nationals' front office reportedly is with the moves they have made thus far this winter in acquiring starter Doug Fister and reliever Jerry Blevins in separate trades and signing outfielder Nate McLouth to a 2-year/$10.75M deal and catcher Chris Snyder to a minor league one, veteran Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote recently that the Nats still wanted a second lefty in addition to Blevins and a veteran catcher to back up Wilson Ramos.
They reportedly had interest in Tampa Bay's Jose Molina at some point, and "hoped to deal for" Reds' backstop Ryan Hanigan before he was traded to the Rays, so though Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon or Snyder will do, the Nationals were apparently open to an upgrade. The WaPost's Mr. Boswell wrote that he thought the Nationals were now done, "...unless value drops in the Nats’ path, perhaps in the form of another left-handed reliever or a better backup catcher."
Eric O'Flaherty hasn't signed with the Braves yet? Swoop in on Atlanta and steal an effective lefty from a divisional rival? If the Nationals are happy with what they already have, but want a lefty, they can wait for O'Flaherty to get back to the majors after Tommy John last May. Otherwise? Go back to Mike Gonzalez? Oliver Perez? Stick with what they have and bring Sammy Solis the way they did with Krol if they don't like the mix a few months in?
As for the backup catcher behind Wilson Ramos? In a chat with readers this week, Boswell noted that the Nats, "...seem to be comfortable with Solano as a backup catcher." Comfortable enough they were willing to trade Kurt Suzuki back to Oakland last August. The Nationals, he added, "...were cool toward Suzuki returning as a backup catcher because their internal analysis concluded that he was one of the worst at framing pitches and 'stealing strikes.'" The Nats are not alone in that assessment. CBSSports.com writer Dayn Perry, citing work done by Matthew Carruth at StatCorner, had Suzuki ranked amongst the worst catchers (O.K. last) in baseball in framing pitches in 2013.
What about those John Buck rumors? Is the veteran catcher an upgrade over the Nationals' in-house options?
As CSNWashington.com's Chase Hughes detailed in a recent post, the Nats have made plenty of moves in early-to-mid-January in recent years, when "value has" dropped to them in the case of Matt Capps in the first week of the month in 2010 or closer Rafael Soriano in the third week (Jan. 17th) last winter. Washington added Edwin Jackson in February in 2012 and they have traded for what they needed in the past, as they did adding depth to the organization by dealing Michael Morse last winter (Jan. 16th) or adding a left-hander as they did with Tom Gorzelanny in January of 2011 (the 19th). Rizzo has already said this winter that there's interest in both prospects and major-league-ready talent in the Nats' organization if they do want to make a deal.
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Speaking of Capps, by the way...
The former Nats' closer came up in the WaPost's Mr. Boswell's chat this past Monday when he wrote that he was talking to Nats' GM Mike Rizzo recently, when, "...the names of Robbie Ray and Wilson Ramos came up,":
"He immediately talked about how '(scouting director) Kris Kline deserves more credit. Our scouts spotted Matt Capps. We didn't get him for free. We paid $3.5-million. But they had him analyzed correctly and we turned Capps into Ramos (in trade) which may help us for 10 years.'"
Rizzo also, according to Boswell, praised the work Doug Harris and Bob Boone have done to turn, "... players who were not even considered prospects at all 'into REAL prospects.'" In Ray's case, Boswell writes, the Nationals', "...player development people helped cut Ray's ERA from 6.56 to 3.34. Then, when his value was high," the Nats traded him, making the left-hander part (or the centerpiece according to Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski) of the deal that sent LHP Ian Krol (a 22-year-old A's '07 9th Round pick acquired as the PTBNL in the Morse deal) and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi (an overachieving 25-year-old, '08 19th Rounder) to the Tigers for Doug Fister, the starter they thought they needed to bolster the rotation.
To be fair to Robbie Ray, he was drafted in the 12th Round in 2010, but could have gone higher and was given what was considered 4th Round money ($799K) since he dropped to the Nationals in the 12th Round at least in part because of a college commitment.
The trade for Gio Gonzalez in late 2011, however, sent 2010 4th Round pick A.J. Cole (a RHP who fell to the Nats because of a college commitment and got an above-slot deal), Derek Norris (an '07 4th Round pick who was the top catcher in the organization), Tommy Milone (an '08 10th Round pick who was the top-ranked lefty in the Nats' system at the time) and RHP Brad Peacock (an '06 41st Round pick) to the A's in return for Gonzalez. That might be a better example of what Rizzo's talking about...
Is there a January deal out there that can get the Nats either the second lefty or the backup catcher they reportedly wanted? They might be done actively looking... but if they could improve the roster? Rizzo's fond of saying they're always open to the possibility...
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