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Wire Taps: Nationals’ backup catcher role expanding; A.J. Cole as fifth starter; 5 Nats on BP’s Top 100

Catch up on the last 24 hours in Nationals news while we wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training...

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MLB: SEP 30 Pirates at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So. We’re a week away from pitchers and catchers, and we forgot to consider something: Apparently, free-agents don’t have to sign before Spring Training anymore.

Who knew?

Here’s the scoop from West Palm Beach.

Whoever backs up for the Nats will get some serious playing time
In the past, the Nats have essentially ignored the backup catcher slot; Jose Lobaton played if the starter needed the day off, but it typically wasn't something Dusty Baker did by choice. With Dave Martinez at the helm and Matt Wieters coming off of a career-worst season, things will be a little different this year. So: Severino or Montero?

AJ Cole is informally the fifth starter — how well is this going to work?
Many Nats fans have negative connotations with Cole's name, if only because he's struggled a ton in the past. Last season, he was decidedly mediocre, but passable. Except for one thing: the stats don't really agree. Then again, are there really any other options? Erick Fedde just doesn't seem ready.

Help Ben's Chili Bowl half-smoke win online stadium food poll
USA Today is trying to assemble a list of the best ballpark grub in the country, and Ben's Chili Bowl is (rightfully) up for the list. AND IT SHOULD ABSOLUTELY WIN.

Five Nats on Baseball Prospectus Top 100
Robles and Soto and Kieboom, duh. But this list likes Seth Romero!

Nats extend contract with Harrisburg Senators
The Harrisburg Senators will feed into the Nats for another two years (at least).

NL East-Ish Notes

Talking Chop Preview: Washington Nationals should cruise to third straight division title
Talking Chop hits the usual bullet points (takes a calamity to lose the division, but we've seen it before; Wieters is struggling; will they get past the NLDS?)

Should the Phillies be content with one of baseball’s lowest payrolls? – The Athletic (Paywall)
The Phillies are trying to win. Can they really do it with this low of a payroll?