As they waited for approval to resume full workouts in preparation for the delayed start to their season, the Nationals added the first player from outside the organization who could find himself on an opening day roster that will be stacked with unexpected reinforcements.
Veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy agreed to terms on a minor league contract Saturday night, a source familiar with the deal confirmed, and presumably will be available should the Nats need to replace one or both of their major league catchers following this week’s COVID-19 outbreak.
The Nationals have not yet revealed the names of the four players who have tested positive for COVID-19 or the six others (including one staff member) who have been placed into quarantine because they were deemed close contacts. But Lucroy’s signing, which was first reported by FanSided.com, suggests the club expects either Yan Gomes or Alex Avila - or perhaps even both - to be unavailable to play when the season begins.
General manager Mike Rizzo on Friday said a host of players from the club’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg would be needed to fill out the sudden vacancies on the 26-man roster, which won’t need to be finalized until the morning of the season opener. But with 26-year-old rookie Tres Barrera the only other catcher on their 40-man roster besides Gomes and Avila, the Nationals felt they needed another experienced player behind the plate in this emergency scenario.
Lucroy, 34, is a career .274 hitter with 108 homers, 545 RBIs and a .751 OPS in 1,203 career games with seven different clubs. But his offensive production has dropped off dramatically the past four seasons, during which he has played for the Rangers, Rockies, Athletics, Angels, Cubs and Red Sox.
Lucroy did have a productive spring for the White Sox, going 6-for-18 with five walks and only one strikeout, but he opted out of his minor league deal last week after learning he wasn’t going to make Chicago’s opening day roster.
The signing came at the end of a long day of waiting, with the Nats hoping they could hold a full-squad workout at Nationals Park, in small groups spread out during the day. Ultimately, they were allowed only to have a handful of pitchers throw on their own early in the evening, after the Mets held a workout and simulated game before departing for Philadelphia, where they will now open their season Monday.
The Nationals also hope to open their season Monday, at home against the Braves, but Major League Baseball still has not made that official and likely won’t until it is satisfied no players who take the field are at risk of infecting others.
If the PCR saliva tests everyone took Friday and Saturday all come back negative, their chances for playing Monday are favorable. If anyone new tests positive, MLB will remain reluctant to let the team gather as a group.