I'm going to mix it up again tacking on the last-year revisit before looking at this year.
Last year discussion revisited
My take ended up being just roll with Ramos and Lobaton as planned and hope for the best. It was a pretty easy take. Catcher can often be a barren position and if you didn't want to sign Weiters (and I didn't) then you really didn't have a better choice than sticking with Wilson and his improved defense. Maybe he would hit?
Well of course he did hit, better than ever, presumably thanks to LASIK. For a long stretch, basically all of June and July with a bit of
carryover into the adjacent months, he was one of the best hitters in
baseball. He hit .350 / .403 / .596 from May 29th through August 7th. It got overshadowed a bit on the Nats because Murphy was doing even better but that's team carrying offense right there. Plus his defense remained sharp. Even though he sputtered toward the end of the season (he hit .232 / .272 / .352 starting with the Cleveland series in early August) and got injured at the very end, he was an extremely big reason the Nats were as successful as they were in 2016. Ramos' rise was doubly important because Lobaton showed only a mild turn around slapping his way to a .232 / .319 / .374 line. On one hand, that's not all that good. On the other hand, for a back-up catcher you probably aren't going to find much better, especially if you focus on his split vs RHP (.262 / .344 / .393)
My outside the box move - trading for Derek Norris - would have been a disaster. I wanted Lucroy but I always want Lucroy so I went for something different. Norris crashed and burned after three years of being a good to very good hitter. My deal actually shipped out Yuney (fine), Storen (great!), and Ramos (ugh) for Norris and Melvin Upton. Before you wonder - no he wouldn't have been any better in CF than Revere/MAT. Ok maybe a little but that's not saying much.
OK onto this year
Presumed Plan : Rizzo will trade for Stephen Vogt or Wellington Castillo.
Reasoning on Presumed Plan : OK the Nats can go four ways. First they can do nothing and go with Lobaton and Severino. This, in my mind, is a non-starter. Lobaton had an acceptable year in 2016 but it was after a couple of really rough ones. Last year was probably the best you can get out of him and trying to match that means playing him as a pure back-up (39 games played) against RHP only. That means it's not really a gamble on Lobaton and Severino, but a gamble on just Severino. Oh sure, Pedro hit .321 with a handful of XBH but it was in an extremely limited 34 ABs. You are betting not on that Severino as much as the Severino that hit .271 with no power in 80+ AAA games, and the guy that hit .250 zero power in 90+ AA games the year before. Severino has never hit for an extended period of time and expecting him to do it in the majors at 23 is a fool's gambit.
The second way they Nats can go is try to sign their catcher of the future. Unfortunately there isn't one out there. Matt Wieters was supposed to be the prize but he couldn't come up with a decent 2016, hitting for low average with little patience. After him though it's dire with probably the oft-injured Alex Avila being your best bet for a 3-4 year catcher. I'm serious. There isn't a catcher of the future here that I see. Free agency is not the long-term answer. Moving on...
The third way is finding a stop gap.
Who is that stop gap? I'm not sure but Kurt Suzuki is a decent choice
for his durability, ability to hit lefties and familiarity with the
team. If not him ... well I'm kind of at a loss. Everyone else is pretty
much worse (Iannetta, Salty, Pierzynski) or too injury prone (Soto,
Avila, Chooch). I think Suzuki will get a decent 2 or 3 year deal which the Nats won't match so that leaves...
That leaves us with the fourth way to try and trade for a catcher. There aren't any great ones that have a one-year deal on them outside of Lucroy who I assume is going nowhere. My guess is that the best trade targets will be Stephen Vogt (decent hitter up until last year - cheap for a few years) and Wellington Castillo (perfectly acceptable catcher with a non-prohibitive salary for a season). Neither of those are particularly exciting but are acceptable and cheap-ish. If you go with Vogt then you likely trade Lobaton, who has some back-up catcher value, and let Severino back up. If you go with Castillo you keep Lobaton and see if Severino can hit in AAA. Are these great catchers? No. But they are likely the best available, plus the Nats don't have a lot of depth to trade from. If you are going to throw out a package of Treinen and Difo, or Voth and Shrock, well this is what you are going to come back with.
Problems with Presumed Plan : No matter which direction the Nationals go, they won't be able to replace Wilson's production at the plate with a catcher. It just isn't possible as the other decent hitting catchers are all on playoff contenders (Posey, Lucroy, Contreras, Grandal, Leon?) or on a division rival (Realmuto). So right off the bat free agency isn't going to make the team better than last year or even as good as last year. It'll be worse. Even focusing on defense won't help that much as Ramos was a solid
defender. You probably aren't getting improvement there unless you
really give up on the hitting. I suppose you can improve pitch framing,
Ramos never showed well there. But you see what I'm getting at. The
presumed plan isn't fixing a problem, it's minimizing the damage.
The other issue is that with Vogt or Castillo (and even more so with anyone they get if they go the free agent route), there's a decent chance they won't be any good at all. There isn't a solid bet here outside of Wieters, whose combination of offense and defense and age should keep him a top half catcher, and someone is likely going to pay him more than the Nats would (or should). So the Nats are forced into a gamble situation at the catcher spot no matter what they do. Vogt isn't too far off though so expect him to cost more than Castillo. In other words - expect Castillo.
My take : It's kind of a no-win situation. There is no way to replace Ramos and there is a good chance that whatever you do will end up making the Nats much much worse as catchers have a tendency to be the little girl with the curl, when they are bad, they're awful. Just look at Norris' nose dive or hell, any recent Ramos year before 2016.
Trading is Rizzo's preferred move. I'm trying to think of a time where he signed someone bad just to have someone at the position and I can't. Not as a starter at least. When he needed a CF he traded for Span. When he needed it again he traded for Revere. When he needed a 3B he traded for Escobar. When he needed a starter he traded for Fister. I don't think he's against a signing but there really isn't anyone out there worth signing. Plus I think there's just enough junk in the minors to get it done. However the targets are limited. So I can easily see a fall back to Plan B which would be Suzuki or someone like him if the targets are acquired by others or are just not on the table. I suppose if not Suzuki I might roll with Jason Castro - a good pitch framer, young, and a good hitter at one point. Hell, if you are hoping for a miracle he's a decent place to look.
What does it mean for 2017? It means you better hope for a lucky Ramos type season from whoever they pick up and Severino to show you something for more than two weeks worth of PAs.
Out of the box suggestion : Trade for Mesoraco. If you are trying to go for an all or nothing gambit he's your man. Three seasons ago he matured into an All-Star power hitting catcher. Then he got hurt and couldn't play. Hey sounds like Ramos! He's not cheap anymore so the Reds would likely deal him for a reasonable price and reasonable price is what the Nats are likely to give up. It's a gamble sure but if you are looking for a way to get a Ramos type season next year from a catcher this might be your best bet. Of course that also means playing 30 games and hitting like crap but them's the breaks when you are hunting for Buffalo
(Look I can only say Giolito for Lucroy so many times)