Sean Casey breaks down the MLB off-season
The Nationals signed free agent Nate McLouth on Friday to boost their bench in what will amount to a 'fourth outfielder' role. A guy who could possibly start for a handful of MLB teams will now be a reserve, despite making over $5 million per year.
McLouth should help as a backup, but also provide insurance for the Nationals outfield. The team's depth issues were exposed in 2013 once the injury bug hit, and next time they want to be fully prepared. A player like McLouth can help spell their starters any given day and fill in for an extended period of time if somebody goes down.
The Nationals like their outfield of Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth, but 2013 left minor questions about their sustainability as a trio. Harper had surgery this offseason to repair a bursa sac from his left knee and has dealt with other ailments in recent years. The way Harper plays can put him in harm's way, as we saw last season.
Span hit just .263 in the season's first half as the Nats leadoff man and was demoted from that spot. He was much better once he returned to that role, but the Nats could use a backup plan. McLouth holds a .339 on-base percentage in 417 career games batting leadoff. Even with Span's super second half, he ended with a .327 OBP in 2013.
Werth was one of the Nationals' best players in 2013 and figures to have another strong season. He has, however, struggled to stay healthy since signing with the Nats as a free agent. After playing in 150 games in his first year with Washington, he's averaged just 105 over the last two. Perhaps a capable backup to give him an occasional day off could help him play more games and be more effective in the longrun.
McLouth's two year deal also gives the Nats flexibility in 2015 when Span has a team option and prospect Brian Goodwin could be ready to start in center field. This gives them another contingency plan. If McLouth has a strong 2014, he help Goodwin transition in a platoon situation or, in an unlikely scenario, become the starter. Either way, McLouth gives them options and important depth in their outfield.