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Nats aim to get most out of Wieters in 2018

Club likely to scale back catcher's playing time to spur bounceback at plate
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have a plan to increase the production from their catchers next season, which could involve relying on a different mix of their current backstops, instead of any external upgrades.

Matt Wieters was the club's primary catcher in 2017, appearing in 123 games while scuffling through the toughest offensive season of his career. He posted a slash line of .225/.288/.344 for a 63 OPS+ and a -0.2 WAR. That made it somewhat of an easy decision for him to exercise his $10.5 million player option to remain in Washington for the '18 season.

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals have a plan to increase the production from their catchers next season, which could involve relying on a different mix of their current backstops, instead of any external upgrades.

Matt Wieters was the club's primary catcher in 2017, appearing in 123 games while scuffling through the toughest offensive season of his career. He posted a slash line of .225/.288/.344 for a 63 OPS+ and a -0.2 WAR. That made it somewhat of an easy decision for him to exercise his $10.5 million player option to remain in Washington for the '18 season.

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Because the Nats are committed to that amount of salary for Wieters already, he will almost certainly be the primary catcher next season as well. While the Nationals do expect Wieters to rebound with a better performance, they are not counting on him to carry the position alone.

In fact, the Nats plan to reduce Wieters' playing time next year to keep him fresh and healthy with the hopes of maximizing his production when he is in the lineup. Wieters played in 123 games in 2017 after appearing in 124 games in '16, but the organization believes he would be best suited to play around 90-100 games.

That means the Nats will want to make sure they have a solid backup catcher to complement Wieters. Although there are a few veteran catchers on the free-agent market who could fit nicely as a backup, pursing a veteran backup catcher is not one of the team's priorities, a source told MLB.com.

That's primarily because the Nationals would be comfortable starting the season with Pedro Severino, the club's No. 15 prospect as rated by MLBPipeline.com, as that backup. His experience in the Majors is limited, but Severino does possess tools that grade him out to be a strong defensive catcher with a strong arm who runs well. At times in the Minors, he has seemed to make some strides on offense only to have them derailed by injuries.

The Nats also have Raudy Read, their 14th-ranked prospect, who profiles as a much better offensive bat, but the team believes he needs more seasoning in the Minors, especially behind the plate.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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