The Nationals have explored the trade market for help behind the plate, according to Jon Heyman (on Twitter). Per Heyman, the Nats are “involved on a number of fronts.”
Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton are slated to comprise the Nationals’ backstop contingent in 2015, but neither player performed anywhere near his previous peak level. Ramos, in particular, had a difficult season. Though the 28-year-old logged a career-best 504 plate appearances, his offensive output was far and away the worst it has been in any of his six big league campaigns. His 15 home runs notwithstanding, Ramos batted a mere .229/.258/.358 in those 504 PAs. While he’s never been known for his plate discipline, Ramos’ 4.2 percent walk rate was the lowest of his career, and his 20 percent strikeout rate was the highest he’s ever recorded. From a defensive standpoint, his ability to control the running game remained strong — he caught an outstanding 44 percent of attempted base-stealers — and he rated slightly below average (though far from disastrous) in terms of pitch-framing.
Lobaton’s season was worse than that of Ramos, but the 31-year-old also entered the season with lower expectations than those placed upon his teammate and countryman. Lobaton batted .199/.279/.294 in 144 plate appearances and caught a respectable eight of 31 base-stealers while grading out quite well in terms of framing. (Prior to 2015, he’d been roughly average, so it could be that the strong marks are merely a small-sample fluctuation behind the plate as opposed to a definitive sign of improvement.) Elsewhere on the 40-man roster, the Nats have young Pedro Severino (who made a brief big league cameo in 2015) and Spencer Kieboom. Both players need more time in the minors, however, as Severino’s bat comes with question marks (though his defensive tools are said to be advanced) and Kieboom spent the 2015 season at Class-A Advanced.
Another factor to consider when thinking about the Nationals’ catching situation is that Ramos is slated to hit the open market next winter and may not be in the team’s long-term plans. If the expectation is that Ramos signs elsewhere as a free agent — either because the Nationals are outbid by a rival team or because the team simply isn’t interested in re-signing him — then it perhaps makes some sense to proactively seek upgrades behind the plate this season. Ramos has historically done most of his damage against left-handed pitching, and the Nationals are known to be seeking lineup balance, so perhaps they’d be interested in finding a left-handed bat to pair with Ramos behind the plate. That, of course, is nothing more than speculation on my own part, and it’s worth pointing out that the reported-but-not-yet-finalized additions of Daniel Murphy (link) and Stephen Drew (link) will at least given the club some more left-handed options around the diamond once completed.
In spite of Ramos’ struggles getting on base last season, it should be noted that president of baseball operations/GM Mike Rizzo spoke very highly of Ramos back in early November in the midst of rumors connecting the Nationals to Matt Wieters (prior to Wieters’ acceptance of a qualifying offer from Baltimore). Rizzo conceded that Ramos had some struggles at the plate but showed good power and ranked No. 1 in the National League in terms of throwing out base-stealers, adding: “We like Ramos. He’s a guy that it would be difficult to find a replacement for.”