LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Nationals looked at the numbers and realized they had a problem.
While Jayson Werth, Bryce Haprer and Denard Span make up a fine starting outfield, the chances of those three all staying healthy throughout the 2014 season are minimal.
Span missed just nine games in 2013, but Werth missed 33 and Harper another 44. Span has a concussion history dating to his days in Minnesota and Werth missed three months of the 2012 season, too. They needed some insurance.
Enter outfielder Nate McLouth, who shook off two poor seasons in Atlanta and Pittsburgh to reinvent his career in Baltimore the last two years. Washington has signed the 32-year-old to a two-year contract worth $10.5 million pending a physical that should happen this week.
“Our fourth outfielder has averaged about 80 games in the outfield,” general manager Mike Rizzo said Monday. “And you’ve got guys, not talking about your main three outfielders, that are getting 380 to 425 at-bats in a season. And we felt that it was a good time to really invest in a player that we felt could really help us off the bench [and] is multi-faceted.”
Indeed, the Nats see a player with a little bit of power – 19 homers in his last 740 at-bats – who puts the ball in play consistently, plays above-average defense at all three outfield positions and is a dangerous on the bases with 30 steals out of 37 attempts for the Orioles in 2013. McLouth had extended conversations with Rizzo and manager Matt Williams about his role before signing with Washington. He even chatted with former Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Adam LaRoche, now the Nats’ first baseman.
If Werth, Harper or Span does get hurt, Washington likes a potential platoon with McLouth from the left side and Scott Hairston from the right side.
“We’re going to make sure that our bench guys play,” Rizzo said. “I think we’re going to utilize him in the right way. In the National League he’ll have a lot of opportunities to pinch hit, pinch run. And have some opportunities to rest one of the three outfielders to keep them fresh, to keep Jayson Werth fresh down the stretch.”