LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Nate McLouth hasn't taken his physical yet, but that didn't stop Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo from explaining why his club signed the left-handed-hitting outfielder.
Rizzo and his staff noticed that their outfielders off the bench were averaging close to 380 to 425 at-bats in the last three seasons. They felt the offseason was a good time to invest in a player like McLouth.
McLouth, 32, figures to play behind starters Bryce Harper, Denard Span and Jayson Werth. When he is in the game for Washington, McLouth is expected to hit near the top of the batting order. McLouth is a player who can provide power and speed. He is also an above-average defender, which is an upgrade from what the Nats received from Roger Bernadina, who often misjudged fly balls before being released during the 2013 season.
"[McLouth] brings some speed, athleticism and some power off the bench," Rizzo said. "And the other aspect of it is, if one of your guys goes down, this guy has been an everyday player. And with the combination of [Scott] Hairston on the right side and Nate from the left side, we feel we've got ourselves a good platoon system if one of our main three guys goes down."
Should none of the club's projected starting outfielders miss significant time in 2014, Rizzo insisted that McLouth will get enough at-bats to stay sharp.
"We plan to rest one of the three outfielders [on a rotating basis] to keep them fresh," Rizzo said. "We'll find ample at-bats. We keep saying, 'If guys don't get hurt,' but over the last three years, we had a guy out there 81 games and that's not one of your starting three outfielders."
After having talks with Rizzo, manager Matt Williams and first baseman Adam LaRoche, McLouth agreed to a two-year deal with an option.
The Nationals would like to add a couple of more players to their bench. They are looking for a backup catcher. Although Rizzo said he is satisfied with Sandy Leon and Jhonatan Solano as his backups, two baseball sources said the Nats are looking for a catcher. The team has interest in John Buck. Leon and Solano are coming off disappointing seasons with the bat.
Washington is looking for a catcher who can spell Wilson Ramos in case he misses a significant amount time because of injuries.
"The question is, if Wilson were to miss a significant amount of games, could they handle the load?" Rizzo said. "Going into Spring Training right now, we are comfortable with what we have right now. We do feel that Ramos is 100-percent healthy. We feel good about his knee, we feel good about the hamstring. He really caught a heavy workload at the end of last season. We think he has passed that test. If Wilson is your everyday guy, we are comfortable with Solano and or Leon as a backup."
The Nationals are also looking for lefty relievers. They used four -- Zach Duke, Fernando Abad, Ian Krol and Xavier Cedeno -- last year, and the group was average, at best. It's known they have interest in Oliver Perez, J.P. Howell, Eric O'Flaherty, Boone Logan and Scott Downs, but they are not close to a deal with a lefty reliever.
The Nats have not ruled out a pitcher like Sammy Solis starting the season in the bullpen, even though they still consider him a starter in the future.
"I didn't know if we are going to get a guy, but we feel there is enough depth out there and enough people out there," Rizzo said. "We feel good with the fact that we could get one. The deal has to make sense for us to make it work."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less