Nov 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
With MLB free agency officially underway — don’t get too excited yet, because players typically don’t start signing for several more weeks — we’re taking a broad look at players the Nationals could pursue, based on positions of possible need. We conclude today with backup catchers…
The Nationals have believed for some time now that Wilson Ramos could become an elite, big-league catcher capable of squatting behind the plate for 120-plus games a season. Trouble is, until the second half of this year, he hadn’t been able to stay healthy enough to do that.
Ramos’ strong finish to the season certainly leaves everyone encouraged that he can maintain that kind of production throughout 2014, and he’ll be expected to play five or six days a week. But given his injury history, the Nationals can’t just assume he’ll make it through the season unscathed, so they need a backup capable of stepping in for prolonged stretches should Ramos break down again.
Kurt Suzuki did an admirable job during his time in D.C., but he’s going to want to sign with someone who will give him a better chance to play on a more regular basis. So the Nationals are left to look at the rest of the free-agent market, one that already has been stripped of a guy who might have fit in well: Brayan Pena, who signed a two-year contract with the Reds.
Here, then, are five other available catchers to consider…
He debuted in the majors in 2004, but he still won’t turn 30 until February, and he’s coming off a solid season with the Cubs in which he hit .300 with 13 homers in only 266 plate appearances. Those numbers might earn Navarro a shot with another team willing to let him play more regularly. But if the Nationals could make a convincing enough case, he’d be a real nice addition.
The third and, relatively speaking, least-accomplished of the Catching Molina Brothers, Jose is no slouch behind the plate. He’s one of the game’s best defensive catchers, rated extremely high for his game-calling and pitch-framing abilities. Offensively, he’s not going to bring a whole lot to the table. And he’d lose a 100-meter dash to Ramos by 20 meters, which considering the piano tied to Ramos’ back is pretty telling. But Molina would be a fabulous mentor for his young catching counterpart, and he’d be more than capable of stepping in if Ramos went down.
If the Nationals are looking more for offense out of the position, Buck certainly provides it. He has averaged 16 homers and 56 RBI over the last four seasons, though he has hit over .247 just once in his career. Buck has been a regular most of that career, and he may still believe he can play on a near-everyday basis. But at 33, he might finally have to make the transition to backup.
Essentially a backup catcher (with only a couple of exceptions) during a 13-year career, Torrealba is reliable, predictable and perfectly capable of serving as a No. 2 behind Ramos.
Whenever you see Blanco around the batting cage during BP, you assume he’s now retired as serving a coach. Nope, he’s still playing, and this year at 41 appeared in 50 games with the Blue Jays and Mariners. He provides next-to-nothing offensively, but he’s been a big-league catcher since 1997 and he has caught basestealers at an impressive, 43 percent rate during his career. The Nats could certainly do a lot worse.
NL EAST STANDINGS
TUE: Nats at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m.
WED: Nats at Dodgers, 3:10 p.m.
FRI: Phillies at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
SAT: Phillies at Nats, 4:05 p.m.
SUN: Phillies at Nats, 1:35 p.m.
MON: Braves at Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Full season schedule
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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