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Nats expect McLouth to get significant playing time

Dec 10, 2013, 8:41 AM EST

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After a strong bounce-back season in Baltimore, Nate McLouth figured to sign with a club this winter that would offer him the chance to win an everyday job.

The Nationals, of course, had no such opportunity with Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Denard Span all entrenched in the outfield. But they managed to convince McLouth to sign a two-year, $10.75 million contract by showing him the likelihood he’ll still get significant playing time off the bench.

In evaluating his team over the last three seasons, general manager Mike Rizzo realized the Nationals’ fourth outfielder made roughly 80 starts per year due to injuries to starters. Wanting to be better-equipped to deal with the inevitable this time, he made it a priority to sign a player of McLouth’s caliber.

“You’ve got a guy — not talking about your main three outfielders — that is getting 380-to-425 at-bats in a season,” Rizzo said Monday at the Winter Meetings. “And we felt that it was a good time to really invest in a player that we felt … could really help us off the bench.”

Looking back at the last three seasons, it’s easy to understand Rizzo’s perspective on the matter.

— The Nationals entered 2011 with a projected outfield of Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel and Werth. But when Adam LaRoche was lost to major shoulder surgery, Morse shifted to first base. That created a hole in left field, where Laynce Nix and Roger Bernadina each wound up starting 71 games.

— Two significant injuries foiled the Nationals’ original outfield plans in 2012: Morse missed more than two months with a torn lat muscle, Werth missed three months with a broken wrist. The domino effect: Bernadina, Tyler Moore, Steve Lombardozzi and Xavier Nady started a combined 130 games in the outfield.

— Werth once again missed time this season with a lingering hamstring strain, and Bryce Harper spent most of the year battling knee and hip injuries. That led to 90 total games started in the outfield by Bernadina, Moore, Lombardozzi and Scott Hairston.

The Nationals presented McLouth — who hit .258 with 12 homers, 31 doubles and 30 steals in 146 games with the Orioles this season — that information and sold the 32-year-old former Gold Glover on the idea of coming to D.C., even though he’d be on the bench if everyone else was healthy.

McLouth is scheduled to take his physical this week, at which point he’ll officially sign a contract that also includes a $6.5 million club option for 2016.

“We mapped out the opportunity for him,” Rizzo said. “No uncertain terms, just black and white: Here’s what we’ve had in the past, here’s what we see your role in the future. And he liked the fit here.”

What happens if Harper, Span and Werth all stay relatively healthy? New manager Matt Williams does plan to give his regulars more days off throughout the season than Davey Johnson did. He also plans to make more late-game switches, whether for defense or pinch-running, opening the door for McLouth to get significant playing time by season’s end.

And if one of the starters does get hurt — as has been the case in each of the last three seasons — the Nationals believe they’re well-stocked to deal with it this time.

“If one of your guys goes down, this guy has been an everyday player last year,” Rizzo said. “And with the combination of Hairston from the right side and Nate from the left side, we feel that we’ve got ourselves a good platoon system if one of our main three guys goes down. That was the rationale.”

  1. pdowdy83 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    There are also several games a year in AL parks where you can use McLouth in the outfield and “rest” Harper and Werth by DHing them. I know that only amounts to about 40 at bats or so but it is also a handful of games where you don’t have to wear down Werth and Harper. It is also a good thing to not be using a guy like Chad Tracy in the DH spot as Davey did this year a couple of times.

    The McLouth signing is the type of move a team serious about contending has to make.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:23 AM

    Mark, is $11.75 contract for McLouth a misprint? I thought it was $10.75 for the 2 years.

    • nats128 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      You are correct. Heres the initial Tweet on the deal. May be things changed.

      “Dan Connolly ‏@danconnollysun 6 Dec
      Nate McLouth gets a two year, $10.75 Million guaranteed from Nationals with an option, says source”

    • Mark Zuckerman - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      No, you’re right. It is $10.75 million. I just fixed it. Sorry for the typo.

      • Doc - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:20 AM

        A million here, a million there—ah heck, it’s just money! LOL

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:19 AM

        Thanks. I do read what you write Mark!

        Doc, true.

  3. nats128 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    “New manager Matt Williams does plan to give his regulars more days off throughout the season than Davey Johnson did. He also plans to make more late-game switches, whether for defense or pinch-running, opening the door for McLouth to get significant playing time by season’s end.”

    That should be received well by many here!

    • Section 222 - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      As long as he isn’t giving Desi and Rendon days off to let a non-hitting Espi get at bats….

  4. nats128 - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Wow this:

    Buster Olney ‏@Buster_ESPN
    The Phillies have indicated to other teams they are ready and willing to talk about Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in trades.

    • pdowdy83 - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:03 AM

      I saw this too and my first thought was if they are willing to trade one of them and Domonic Brown why in the world did they spend $40mm on Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz. Ruben Amaro may be the most clueless GM in baseball. Either rebuild or don’t but you can’t get anywhere with the one foot in one foot out concept Amaro seems to have.

      Oh well. I guess I shouldn’t complain. He took a dominant team and killed their future very quickly after he took over.

      • letswin3 - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:15 PM

        The Phillies like the Hokey Pokey.

      • Sonny G 10 - Dec 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM

        letswin3, your Hokey Pokey comment was hilarious and I laughed out loud. My wife wanted to know what was so funny, so I told her. Now she can’t get the Hokey Pokey song out of her head. :)

    • Section 222 - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      Wow. I wonder what getting either of them would cost. I’d be willing to plug in either one as our No. 5 starter. :-)

  5. ArVAFan - Dec 10, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    Well, if he doesn’t get all the expected at-bats because all our starters stay healthy, that’s not exactly a bad outcome either. Sort of like keeping umbrellas in the house, car, and office seems to keep it from raining. And if it does rain, well, you have an umbrella handy. Not a bad outcome either way.

    Wonder what Bryce will say when Matt tries to give him a day off. Are we expecting a repeat of “Play me or trade me”?

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Given the nos. for the previous years, and the consequences (e.g., Nady and Hairston), it’s amazing that Rizzo took so long to wake up to this idea. Maybe he’s just a slow learner (nor Lerner).

    • pdowdy83 - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:19 AM

      Or maybe it was because Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore did an excellent job in 2012 which made it seem like the team wouldn’t need to spend on a player like McLouth last offseason. Some regression was expected from the lines both of them put up in 2012 to the 2013 season but I don’t think anyone predicted they would both drop of as much as they did.

      • nats128 - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:32 AM

        I agree with you. It appeared as if the bench was fixed in 2012. In 2013, the bad bench probably caused the Nats the playoffs.

        Reactionary, yes, has to be. I hope Rizzo isnt finished.

      • nats128 - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:32 AM

        I agree with you. It appeared as if the bench was fixed in 2012. In 2013, the bad bench probably caused the Nats the playoffs.

        Reactionary, yes, has to be. I hope Rizzo isnt finished.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Dec 10, 2013 at 1:20 PM

        Dowdy et al are missing the point of Mark’s post. McLouth is a different kind of cat. He’s a guy they’re counting on — and I emphasis counting on — to start 75 games. The 2012 end-of-the-year bench (remember the outfield “depth” with which they started on Opening Day) looked better in comparison to 2011 (what wouldn’t have looked better?). But (A) Moore was still a newbie; (B) “sources” had been complaining for years that Bernadina couldn’t be relied on to hold onto a spot in the OF on more than an occasional basis; (C) Tracy was still Tracy (noticeably less effective in the second half of the season) and (D) Lombardozzi was still Lombardozzi (and they clearly knew at the outset of 2013 he wasn’t an everyday player either at bat or as a 2B, OF or any other position).

        The 2013 problem was they were content with the status quo. There probably isn’t a team in baseball that can’t stand to improve its bench. Look what happened to the Dodgers last year when they had to cut-and-paste their IF. Or even St. Louis’s bench in the playoffs — a guy who they DFA’d a couple of weeks ago.

        This season — thankfully — is different. Tracy and Lombardozzi are gone. Espinosa, assuming Rizzo isn’t blowing smoke up everybody’s skirt, can at least hold down multiple spots defensively. McLouth is an entirely different kind of “bench” player. Those are pluses. The problem is: (A) what Moore do you get (June Moore or September Moore)?; (B) Hairston’s still Hairston (serious unease with that but diminished by signing McLouth; (C) no clear cut backup catcher. Why can’t they do better than Hairston? And if Solano and/or Leon turn out to be more nimble versions of Wil Nieves then they’ve taken a step backward. (Nieves wasn’t really good enuf to start 35-plus games a season but he did.)

  7. Theophilus T.S. - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    “not”

  8. TimDz - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Per Adam Kilgore:
    ‏@AdamKilgoreWP Also, it seems as though talks between the Nats and Cubs about Clippard and Storen never went anywhere. Told that one is dead.

    Good…I wasn’t too keen on losing either of those guys…This is really go for it mode for the team and they need not be tinkering too much…

    • Steady Eddie - Dec 10, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      As they say in Louisiana, yeah you right.

      Plus the Cubbies have nothing that we want — Schierholz (sp?) a lesser version of McLouth, and Russell at best a LOOGY only which is not what Rizzo is looking for.

    • Jw - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      One is dead? OMG which one? I’m guessing Storen. He’s pretty reckless.

      Oh, what’s that you say? Never mind. Told that Kilgore can’t write.

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