VIERA, FLA. — One year after its bench imploded in the midst of a disappointing season, the Nationals went out of their way to rectify that situation in the offseason.
Their first priority? A player who could handle any outfield position and reasonably contribute at the plate. Nate McLouth fit the bill. After reviving his career in Baltimore the past two seasons, McLouth signed with Washington in December as a free agent. He arrived at spring training last week ready to assume a fourth outfielder role.
“I think the important thing is keeping guys fresh because everybody likes to play every day,” McLouth said. “Everybody likes to. I think there’s a real benefit in being able to get a guy a day off every once in a while. I think the fact that I can play all three outfield positions definitely helps. So it’s something where when a guy needs a day, maybe feeling a little nicked up or tired, that’s what I’m here for.”
And that wasn’t the case very often last season when Roger Bernadina, last year’s fourth outfielder, was waived by the team in August after a miserable season. Chad Tracy, the veteran pinch hitter, saw a rapid decline, too, and wasn’t brought back.
McLouth was brought in to provide some stability. He started 125 games in the outfield for Baltimore last season and 52 the year before for the Orioles. His OPS was .729 last season.
Bernadina, by contrast, was an offensive sinkhole at .529 in 167 at bats. Then again, the year before he had a .777 OPS. Bench performances are not always predictable or repeatable. It’s why Washington felt it needed to give McLouth a two-year, $10.75 million contract.
In essence, the Nats were paying for a track record even if McLouth himself had struggles of his own in 2010 and 2011 in Atlanta and Pittsburgh that derailed his career before he found himself again in Baltimore.
McLouth says he had other options in free agency. But serious playing time was more likely to come with a non-contender. If he wanted to play for a team with realistic postseason hopes then this reserve outfielder role was more likely. Ultimately, he was fine with that.
“That’s a tough choice,” McLouth said. “But I know that I liked this situation. It was one I was real comfortable with and real excited about.”