Ryan Sullivan: Nationals need a boost behind the plate

The Nationals have been scuffling thus far in June with a 5-5 record. In particular, the offense has been struggling, scoring only 39 runs in those 10 games. And if you eliminate their 11-run explosion last week against the Rays, the Nationals are averaging only 3.11 runs per game in June. While it takes many hitters collectively struggling at the same time to produce these results, the Nationals catchers have been particularly dreadful recently.

Starting catcher Matt Wieters was having a solid start to 2018, but unfortunately was placed on the disabled list about a month ago with a hamstring injury. In his absence, Pedro Severino has acted as the starter, with Spencer Kieboom serving as the backup. Both players have performed well defensively despite their inexperience and should be commended for their work handling an experienced pitching staff. However, in the past 30 days, Severino is batting .094/.172/.113 with 13 strikeouts in 53 at-bats and Kieboom has hit .185/.214/.222 in 27 at-bats. Sure, it’s only a small sample size, but this is unacceptable from a non-pitcher.

Wieters performed some baseball activities earlier this week and reports have him targeting a return after the All-Star break. I am not a doctor, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express, but I do fear how a hamstring injury will affect the 32-year-old Wieters when he returns. Besides a knee, I cannot think of a worse injury for a catcher to compensate for every day. Going forward, Wieters should be used with Adam Smith’s “Law of Diminishing Returns” in mind, as his results are much stronger playing twice a week rather than three, three rather than four and so on.

This leaves Washington’s front office with a conundrum heading toward the July 31 trade deadline: Can the Nationals make a deep postseason run with the recovering Wieters and struggling Severino behind the plate? The answer seems to be no.

Thankfully, the trade market could have several players potentially available. Miami’s J.T. Realmuto has been much discussed in NatsTown as an ideal fit and has gotten off to a hot start in 2018, batting .304/.369/.522. He is under contract for two more seasons and will be difficult to acquire. Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli is also off to a strong season, hitting .263/.389/.513. He is under contract thru 2019 and the Pirates could seek to clear his salary from their future obligations. Finally, former National Wilson Ramos is batting .282 with eight home runs so far for the Rays. The Rays are actively slashing payroll, and with Ramos only under contract through 2018, Tampa should be motivated to deal him.

These three players encompass the difficult decision general manager Mike Rizzo has in order to upgrade the catcher position. He could trade for someone at the end of their contract like Ramos at a lower cost, but Rizzo rarely trades prospects for pure rentals. Or should he trade significant prospect capital to secure a longer-term solution. Either way, the Nationals must address the catching position before the July 31 trade deadline.

Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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