One of the most-important decisions, facing the Washington Nationals this off-season, will be at catcher. Wilson Ramos’ departure leaves them with the tandem of Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino – more on them momentarily.
Ramos, who had long teased Nats fans with his talent, finally put together a breakout season in 2016. He batted over .300, with 22 home runs and a career-high 3.3 wins-above-replacement.
Unfortunately, rainy-conditions and a high relay-throw conspired to a nightmarish conclusion to his season, in a meaningless, 14-4 loss to the Diamondbacks.
Nats fans were left to a familiar sight: Ramos being carried off the field. From balky-hamstrings to broken bones, the 29-year-old Venezuelan has struggled to stay healthy, throughout his career.
The latest – tears to the ACL and MCL – will sideline him through spring training and a great portion of the 2017 season. An impending free-agent, Ramos went from securing a big payday to the murky waters of rehab.
Still, hitting catchers are a prized-commodity, and Ramos will be gobbled up by some team that can afford to sit and wait while he works his way back to health. The Nationals – despite their deep pockets – have not shown the historical-inclination to pay for such luxuries.
The switch-hitting Lobaton is not the answer. He’s a solid backup, who owns a career, .632 OPS. The 23-year-old Severino is at least slightly more intriguing. In limited-work, he batted .321 and showed some pop in his bat. Behind the plate, the big right-hander showcased a strong, throwing arm.
He is, however, unproven. Against better pitching, in the NLDS, he managed just a single hit. He may eventually blossom into a competent hitter, but he will likely need significant seasoning.
Seasoning takes time and, something the Nationals don’t exactly have in spades. Their veteran core (Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman) aren’t getting any younger and their young star, Bryce Harper, inches another year closer to free-agency (a date Nats fans have circled like the Mayan calendar) .
Enter Brian McCann.
The Yankees catcher has been the subject of Hot Stove rumors. The emergence of rookie-of-the-year-candidate, Gary Sanchez, has made him expendable. Yankees brass is embracing a youth-movement, and McCann is 32.
Despite his age, his bat still shows pop – averaging 23 home runs, over the last three seasons. Yankee Stadium has been notoriously-friendly for lefties, but McCann didn’t show any significant home/road splits in 2016. 11 of his home runs came at home, versus nine elsewhere.
He has a career .799 OPS. While his average has declined, his power will keep pitchers honest. He is a professional hitter, who will take a walk (9.5% career BB rate) and uses all fields. Even better: he hits left-handed.
With the majority of the Nationals big-boppers hitting right-handed, McCann would slot in nicely in the five or six hole.
Projected 2017 Line-up with McCann*
*The Nationals have expressed interest in shopping Espinosa and moving Turner back to his natural, shortstop position.
At 32, McCann won’t be a 120-130 game catcher, but he could also get some time as a left-handed option at first base. This would allow the right-handed Severino some playing time, if the Nats choose to keep him on the 25-man roster.
Defensively, McCann won’t be confused for the rocket-armed Ramos. He did, however, post stellar campaigns as recently as 2014 and 2015 (36.5% CS over that span versus 29.5% league average).
Framing metrics haven’t always been kind to him, but he did rate positive in 2016, coaxing an extra 43 strikes out of umpires. Ramos, incidentally, generated a score of -14 in that department.
The veteran has also shown the ability to handle a pitching staff. In 2016, the Yankees finished seventh in American League ERA, despite fielding a lackluster rotation.
McCann is under contract for the next two seasons, at $17 million a pop. He has a 2019 option, which vests if he accumulates 1,000 plate appearances over the next two seasons.
He does have a full, no-trade clause, which he would have to waive in order for this deal to go through. At this time, it is unknown what his opinion on the subject is. However, if he is willing to consider a move, Washington makes sense.
First, it would guarantee full-time catching status, rather than the probable-DH role he would have with the Yankees. It would also bring him closer to his home state of Georgia.
The Nationals and Yankees were in trade talks last year, when the Nationals were shopping for relievers. Yanks general manager Brian Cashman was certainly enamored with their wares, prospect-wise.
A deal structured around one of their pitching prospects (Reynaldo Lopez or Lucas Giolito) could get it done, especially if the Nats are willing to eat most of McCann’s remaining salary.
Parting with one of those pitchers would hurt but, as the Cubs showed, sometimes you have to pull the trigger when the timing is right.