Hitting coach Rick Eckstein is the first person to take the fall for Washington being one of the most disappointing teams in baseball this season, as the Nationals announced that he’s been fired and minor-league hitting coordinator Rick Schu will replace him.
After scoring the fifth-most runs in the league last season the Nationals kept the lineup mostly intact while adding a new leadoff man in Denard Span, but they’ve fallen to 14th in scoring as injuries have often wrecked the lineup and Span, Adam LaRoche, Danny Espinosa, and other key contributors have struggled.
Interestingly, according to Jim Bowden of ESPN.com manager Davey Johnson “was not supportive of the decision” to fire Eckstein, who remained on the coaching staff when Johnson replaced Jim Riggleman as manager in mid-2011. Eckstein’s profile on MLB.com notes that he “has helped to establish Washington’s lineup as one of the NL’s top offensive units over the last four seasons.” So much for that.
UPDATE: Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post notes that as of a month ago both Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo “offered double-barreled support for” Eckstein and Rizzo even “admonished reporters” for asking about Eckstein’s job security.
A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.
Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.
For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.
The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.
Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.