After adding Doug Fister, the Washington Nationals did not have a need to make any earth-shattering moves. But while the team had no gaping holes, they still had several small ones left to fill. They had a real need to improve upon their bench, a unit that hit .207/.264/.351 in 2013. The bench was particularly bad from the left side, with key players Roger Bernadina and Chad Tracy hitting .178 and .202, respectively. While the baseball world around them was undergoing wholesale changes, the Nats needed to focus on filling comparatively smaller holes.
Today, they took a big step towards completing their bench. They signed former Orioles’ outfielder Nate McLouth to a 2 year deal, worth approximately $10.75 million, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. McLouth will likely be a left-handed bench bat and a fourth outfielder on a team with three entrenched starters.
McLouth’s career path has been a unique one, filled with both highs and lows. After a solid 2007, McLouth had a breakout year for the Pirates in 2008, hitting 26 home runs, putting up a .276/.356/.497 triple slash, and earning MVP votes, a Gold Glove, and his only all-star bid. After a solid 2009 that saw him traded to Atlanta at the deadline (for current Pirates’ starters Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke), McLouth fell off a cliff in 2010. In 85 games, he hit .190/.298/.322, was the 6th-least (by fWAR) valuable player in baseball, and earned himself a demotion to triple-A. He struggled again in 2011, and after getting non-tendered by the Pirates in 2012, he found a home in Baltimore. In a season and a half in the Charm City (201 games), he hit .261/.333/.409 and had a league-average 100 OPS+, with 19 home runs and 42 stolen bases. At age 32, McLouth seems to have regained some of the form that made him an all-star in 2008.
The price might seem a little expensive for a player who will get only the occasional start. But that is the state of the market today. In a world where Willie Bloomquist (of the 1.4 career fWAR) can get 2 years and $5.8 million, a 2 year deal for $10.75 seems entirely reasonable by comparison. The Nationals have payroll flexibility but lack the need to sign a big-ticket free agent; therefore, the most prudent strategy is to overpay slightly for the premium reserves. McLouth, the starting left fielder on a team that won 85 games, now shifts to a backup role on the Nats, and his ability to play all three outfield positions gives new manager Matt Williams tremendous flexibility — he can give a day off to one of his outfielders without sacrificing too much offensive production. Signings like these will not make major headlines, but this is the type of move the Nationals need to make in their drive to win a championship.