The Washington Nationals were supposed to be a super-team last season. After signing Max Scherzer to an enormous $210 mil contract, star outfielder Bryce Harper was quoted as asking "Where's my ring?" before spring training had even started. Unfortunately while Scherzer and Harper both lived up to hype and performed at incredible levels last season, the rest of the team fell flat to an 83-79 record. That was seven games behind that division-winning Mets and left the "Natinals" out of the postseason picture.
Hoping to avoid that fate again in 2016, the Nationals have set about to improve their roster for next season. They've already lured free agent and postseason hero Daniel Murphy from their division rivals and have brought in players like Yusmiero Petit, Oliver Perez, and Trevor Gott to solidify their bullpen. But according to Jon Heyman, GM Mike Rizzo might be in search of some help behind the plate.
Nats have looked at the trade market for catchers. They are involved on a number of fronts.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 6, 2016
Washington's current catching configuration consists of a combination of Wilson Ramos and Jose Lobaton, both of whom endured subpar seasons in 2015. Ramos is considered the "everyday" guy and while he did slug 15 home runs in 128 games, he also managed only well-below average 63 wRC+ and walked in just 4.2% of his plate appearances. He did receive positive marks for his defense but given his 0.4 fWAR in 2015, it's not hard to imagine why a team with designs on competing for a World Series next season would be in the market for an upgrade. Ramos is also a free agent after the 2016 season.
Enter the Milwaukee Brewers. Our beloved local nine are in the midst of a rebuild, of course, and they possess no more valuable trade chip than their own beloved backstop in Jonathan Lucroy. With little in the way of free agent talent available behind the plate, many consider Luc as the top backstop that could be had on the trade or free agent market this winter.
It's been well-publicized that the 29 year old endured a "down" year in 2015, but those numbers were greatly skewed by an awful start to the season prior to missing time with a broken toe. After returning from his injury on June 1st, Lucroy posted a .282/.342/.420 slash with 29 extra-base hits in 364 plate appearances through the end of the season, numbers that are right in line with his career averages. He's an established 3-4 WAR catcher who remains an excellent defender behind the plate, and he's only two years removed from a top-5 MVP finish in 2014. Lucroy can be controlled through the 2017 season at an extremely reasonable rate of $9.25 mil.
New GM Slingin' David Stearns has been said to be listening to offers on all of his players, though it's been rumored that he's seeking a large return in exchange for his "face of the franchise." The Rangers and Braves are two teams who have been linked to Lucroy at various points this winter, though Washington might make even more sense as a potential suitor than either of those two.
The Nats do have a couple of "can't miss" kids like RHP Lucas Giolito and SS Trea Turner currently in their farm system, though it could be tough to convince them to part with either of those two players. Beyond that, RHPs Reynaldo Lopez, Eric Fedde, A.J. Cole, infielder Wilmer Difo, and catchers Jackson Reetz and Pedro Severino are some of the more highly rated prospects in the Nationals system according to MLB Pipeline.
Now that the holiday season is behind and we're about halfway through the offseason, the proverbial Hot Stove should begin to reheat very quickly. There's been no indication that Stearns is done re-shaping the Brewers' roster for 2016, and perhaps a trade of Jonathan Lucroy could still be one of the many major transactions that we ought to start seeing around the game in the coming weeks.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs