Nationals taking measures to improve bench
Nats land McLouth, have interest in Reynolds; Williams has faith in Espinosa
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have improved their pitching staff by trading for starter Doug Fister and reliever Jerry Blevins. But have they improved their bench? One would hope so. It's one of the reasons the Nats were not in the postseason last season.
The Nationals' reserves were a disappointment in 2013, going 44-for-212 (.208), with seven home runs and 17 RBIs as pinch-hitters.
General manager Mike Rizzo took steps to improve the bench this offseason. It helped that the club acquired free-agent outfielder Nate McLouth, who will provide speed and power from the left side of the plate. He will platoon with Scott Hairston as the fourth outfielder in 2014.
But the Nationals appear to be far from done. They are still looking for infield help. It was reported Monday that the Nats have interest in Mark Reynolds. If he were to join, Reynolds would be a backup third baseman and first baseman behind Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, respectively.
If the Nationals are unable to acquire Reynolds, Tyler Moore will likely be the backup first baseman, but he has to show that he can be consistent at the plate. After a slow start last season, Moore was sent to the Minor Leagues. After finding his swing with Triple-A Syracuse, Moore returned to the Nats last August and hit over .340.
Washington recently signed a handful of middle infielders -- Jamey Carroll, Mike Fontenot and Emmanuel Burris -- and they could battle Danny Espinosa for a backup role. Talk to manager Matt Williams and he still believes in Espinosa, who lost his starting job at second base to Anthony Rendon last season. Williams sees Espinosa being a major contributor for the Nationals this year.
Espinosa is coming off his worst season in professional baseball. He was sent to the Minor Leagues in June and never returned to the big leagues because of problems at the plate. Espinosa struck out a combined 148 times in 471 at-bats for the Nats and Triple-A Syracuse. At one point, Washington was looking to trade Espinosa.
"I think Danny is a wonderful player, and I think he provides a lot of things for us," Williams said. "Certainly, he is a phenomenal defender. But he will also provide the ability to play shortstop. Everybody thinks of him as a second baseman. He is a fantastic shortstop, and he provides switch-hitting capabilities for us.
"You look at him and you say, 'What a very valuable player.' Certainly, if you asked Danny, he will say he had an off year, given what he had done the previous two years. I spoke to him. He is 100 percent ready to go. If we had Spring Training tomorrow, he would be ready. He is committed to make last year an aberration. He is a guy that could give your team so many things."
The Nationals have to figure out who their backup catcher will be. They want a catcher who can be productive in case Wilson Ramos misses a lot of time because of injury. The team had interest in players such as Jose Molina and John Buck, but both players decided to sign elsewhere.
Entering Spring Training, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder will battle for the backup role. Solano and Leon are not bad defensively, but they were below average at the plate last season. Snyder appears to have the edge because he can provide power at the plate. In 2008, for example, he hit a career-high 16 home runs.
"I think [our bench is] strong, I think it's powerful," Williams said. "I think there are good interchangeable guys in there that could play multiple positions. During Spring Training, we will determine what direction we go in."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.