In this second installment of the State of the Washington Nationals, the positions of catcher, first base, and second base will be examined.
The recently acquired Derek Norris is expected to be the team’s starting catcher. The one-time All-Star (2014) had a tough season offensively in 2016 with an OBP of .255. Norris is a massive setback from Wilson Ramos. Unsurprisingly, the team did not go after Mike Napoli as I argued they should have.
The hope at the position comes in the form of Pedro Severino. As I mentioned in a previous article, he is “a 23-year-old catcher who has shown some terrific potential. In 34 plate appearances last season, Severino posted an OBP of .441, a BA of .321, and two home runs.”
Additionally, the Nationals have 32-year-old catcher José Lobaton who has a career OBP of .302 (.319 last year).
The question everybody is thinking is: “Does Ryan Zimmerman have anything left in the tank?”
He is only 32, but the longtime Nat’s health has dramatically declined over the past three seasons, and so has his performance. From 2014-2016, his OBP numbers went from .344 to .308 to a career low of .272. He played in 115 games last season, many of them while injured. Once a Golden Glove third baseman, he has now been relegated to first base.
Behind him is Clint Robinson, who’s not that great of a choice either. His career OBP is .336 (2016: .305). Part of the problem the team faces at this position lies in the contract that Zimmerman signed back in 2009. It was an 11-year contract worth $135 million. That’s right, 11 years, with an additional one-year option. He is set to make $14 million in each of the next two seasons, $18 million in 2019, and has the option to play in 2020 for $20 million. Saying he is overpaid is an understatement. I find it bizarre that the Nationals showed zero interest in Mike Napoli as a replacement.
Zimmerman has been with the team from the very beginning and means a tremendous amount to the organization and its fans, but he has become an offensive liability and an expensive one at that. The Nationals’ failure to add someone at the position with so much to spend is another offseason headscratcher.
Daniel Murphy was spectacular in his first season as a Nat. He hit 47 doubles, 25 home runs, had a .347 BA, a .390 OBP, and an NL-leading slugging percentage of .595. He finished second in the NL MVP voting. Since going off in the 2015 post-season with the New York Mets, Murphy has not let up.
The concern with him comes from his gluteal muscle. The strain he suffered last season that cost him the final two weeks of the regular season, “could be recurring,” as he put it.
“So it’s something, in my old age, I have to be a little more diligent in certain areas.”
It has forced the 31-year-old (turns 32 April 1) to hit less this offseason. It is unclear whether Murphy will be able to produce the numbers he did last season. One thing is for sure, however; he is critical to the team’s success. Losing Wilson Ramos only makes him more valuable to the team.
Backing Murphy up is Stephen Drew, a 12-year veteran who had an OBP of .339 with eight home runs.
There is a question mark at the catcher position that probably depends on either Norris or Severino stepping up. It is unlikely that Norris will return to his All-Star form and it is too early to tell what Severino will become.
Second base depends on Murphy’s health. As long as he stays healthy, the team should have one of the best in the game at the position.
It is a shame that GM Mike Rizzo did not pursue Napoli, as he could have been a terrific improvement at first base or even catcher.
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