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Free agency primer: Catchers

Nov 9, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

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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.

  1. Joe Seamhead - Nov 9, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    I was pretty impressed with Solano’s defense. I think that he has immense potential, though it is kind of scary to think of him as a primary catcher if Ramos goes down. I do like Molina and Navarro, but you can have the whole lot of the rest listed above. I’d go with the Onion over any of them.

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 9, 2013 at 9:20 AM

      I wasn’t very clear after reading my opinion. After Navarro and Molina, I’d take the Onion over the rest of the guys mentioned by Mark. BTW- I like Suzuki, but honestly I think of him as being good enough to lose with. As to Solano, I really think that he will develop into a decent ML catcher, but he needs more time.

  2. nats128 - Nov 9, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    “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”

    Kind of surprised you didn’t add to it that the A’s traded him the 1st time because he was no longer performing well as a full time catcher and when Ramos got injured and Suzuki was the full time catcher his stats went into a deep slump and he looked physically tired.

    I dont see a contending team giving Suzuki a starters position however like Soto, they may present it like that if nothing better comes along.

    The Nats know Suzuki and Suzuki knows the Nats. He should be at the top of the list as a backup if the Nats cant snag Navarro or Buck. 4th choice would be Solano.

  3. ptindc - Nov 9, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    If possible, it would be nice if our backup catcher batted left handed.

    • therealjohnc - Nov 9, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      Navarro is a switch hitter; he’s my #1 hope for the backup slot. He may get a starting gig, though.

  4. Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 9, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    A little late getting back to topic, but on the Nats Spring Training item, I’ll repost.

    Sec 3, My Sofa – Nov 9, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Just got back from two weeks in Melbourne. The Nats have asked for extensive renovations to the facilities (leaky roof in the clubhouse, deteriorated seats for fans, among other things), and Brevard Co., which owns the park, is getting really fed up.
    Nationals claim Space Coast Stadium overdue for fixes
    Oct. 25, 2013 Florida Today

    I asked several locals what they thought, and most of them said essentially the same thing: We would rather they stayed, but we’ve given them everything they asked for, and it’s never enough, it’s always something else, and it’s always on our dime. Don’t let the doorknob hit them.

    • Candide - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      From your link:

      The Nationals are requesting repairs done to the Space Coast Stadium, which has rusting, deteriorating railings, rusting doors, leaks in the ceiling of lockers rooms and hallways…

      The Nats are responsible for routine maintenance. The county is responsible for capital improvements.

      Seems to me that sanding rust until you have only nice shiny metal, priming it, and painting it, is routine maintenance, not a capital improvement. And fixing ceiling and roof leaks is routine maintenance. But what do I know?

      I wonder if the contract between the county and the Nats says otherwise.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:20 AM

        Search “space coast stadium” on the FT site and you will get a good overview of their coverage on the issue over the past months.

        I got the impression the difference of opinion on what’s maintenance and what’s capital improvements is one point of contention, but the real issue is geography, which Brevard Co. can’t do much about. Absent high-speed rail, which can’t happen before the current contract runs out, if it ever happens at all (it might yet, if only Miami-to-Orlando/Disney, not necessarily with a stop for the Space Coast), it’s too close to fly and too far to drive.

      • NatsLady - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:33 AM

        Gee, I don’t know (because I haven’t read the contract). But if my landlord had rusting doors, leaking ceilings, etc. I would hold HIM responsible. My idea of “routing maintenance” is cleaning up after ballgames.

      • NatsLady - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:37 AM

        Sorry, “routine maintenance.” I live in an apartment. The landlord is responsible for painting, leaking windows, plumbing :”events”, etc. I’m responsible for personal stuff– taking out trash, blue tablets in the toilet, mopping kitchen floor, etc.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:46 AM

        “The landlord is responsible for painting, leaking windows, plumbing :”events”, etc. I’m responsible for personal stuff– taking out trash, blue tablets in the toilet, mopping kitchen floor, etc.”

        Just my own impression, but I think it’s more like leaky faucets: the county wants to fix the leak, and the Nats want the bathroom renovated.

      • Jw - Nov 9, 2013 at 11:28 AM

        This is Lerners 101. If their landlord doesn’t perform to the contract, they sue. Ask the DC govt about that.

    • NatsLady - Nov 9, 2013 at 10:29 AM

      I hear what they are saying, but I feel for Mike Rizzo. Seems like all these spring training and minor league towns try to suck at the major-league tit and don’t like to pay the bill.

  5. Doc - Nov 9, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Love the little guy as he gives great effort and great defense, and he has a great backstory.

    But Solano couldn’t hit at AAA, and he probably will offer less offense in a backup roll.

    Hope Rizzo goes after someone at the top of the list like Navarro.

    They paid, $8mm/season to Suk last season and a half. Don’t think that they’ll have to do that kind of payroll again.

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      I just looked at his overall minor league stats and you are correct. I didn’t realize how weak his stats were. His defense was still pretty good in his limited chances.
      Get Navarro or Molina.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 9, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    I think small town/Spring Training/minor league stadium owners have a hard time making the link between having a professional ball club and building/maintaining the town’s “brand” when it is competing for businesses and “growth” with other cities. There are some 65-70,000 people living in Ashburn. Don’t you think for at least some of them and for others living in Loudoun County having the Ashburn Hounds — assuming they ever commence operation — will influence how they identify with the community, locate their businesses and spend their consumer dollars? The problem is the connection is indirect. Money spent at Ruby Tuesday/TGI Friday/Applebee’s is measurable, as is money earning by the employees of those enterprises. Measuring money spent at those places or in nearby shopping centers because the Ashburn Hounds are playing at home that night requires another leap of faith.

    The towns are having a hard enough time paying for sewers, road repairs, street lights — we won’t go into the reasons why — and have a very difficult time spending money on intangibles, things without an easily measurable return.

    I might some season visit Viera to watch the Nationals for a week, spend a couple thousand dollars — and I’m never going to go to Viera if the Nationals aren’t there. How the Nationals get that point across is the problem. On the one hand the county commissioners were willing to subsidize transportation to Orlando, etc., if that would get the Nats to stay. Now they’re resisting making commitments to make the stadium look bright and shiny. Seems to me the county senses they are fighting a losing battle and can’t trade these seemingly routine expenses for a long term deal — hence, why should they give in?

    • NatsLady - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:58 PM

      Agree. The only reason I would go to a particular town in Florida is if my team is there. (I might not ever go, but IF I go…).

  7. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 9, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    After the last two seasons I see every decision about backups under the light of a possible 20-30 game stretch filling in for a regular, not just day games after a night game and make-up DHs. From Mark’s list of names, only Navarro and Molina would qualify. Can’t see Suzuki interested in coming back to DC. Buck’s defense doesn’t impress. If you need a Dutch boy to plug a hole in the dike for a month he better have good thumbs. Bat is secondary.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 9, 2013 at 11:15 AM

    Based on the contract the Rangers gave to Soto, the price of mediocre catching is as out of sight as the price of mediocre pitching.

  9. Faraz Shaikh - Nov 9, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    I go with Buck because of offense if there is any. basically the best offensive option out of all these players.

  10. David Proctor - Nov 9, 2013 at 2:52 PM

    Interesting that CBS is reporting that the Nats are “willing to listen” to offers on Span. Of course, that doesn’t really mean anything. With the exception of guys like Bryce, Desi and Stras (maybe a couple others), the Nats should be willing to listen on anybody–doesn’t mean they want to trade or will trade, just that they’ll entertain the idea.

    Span wasn’t too thrilled though, tweeting “here we go again.”

    • nats128 - Nov 9, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Of course the Boras clients will be tied to the Nats. Ellsbury is a Boras client.

      Yep, Here We Go Again

      • David Proctor - Nov 9, 2013 at 3:09 PM

        As is Choo, who is an atrocious CF, but could play a corner OF spot and move Bryce back to center.

        We’re not going after either of those extremely expensive guys, but I’d much rather have Choo between them. His OBP game ages much better than Ellsbury’s speed game.

  11. NatsLady - Nov 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    Spend the money on pitching. There is nothing wrong with Span’s game. His D is great, his offense is average and his baserunning will improve now that he knows the league.

  12. Joe Seamhead - Nov 9, 2013 at 4:43 PM

    Rizzo doesn’t really want Bryce playing CF. Ellsbury is constantly getting hurt and Choo plays, as said, a mediocre CF. Pass.

    Since we’re playing fantasy GM/manager here I would like to see Harper in RF, Span in CF. Werth in LF, and ALR platoon at first, and when Werth is playing first against RHP then our new RH stud fourth outfielder plays LF.

  13. MicheleS - Nov 9, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    Can we get a Molina for 1 year. I know he is the least of the 3 and stinks at the plate, I just have a soft spot for the catching family, and it can never hurt to have a guy that is excellent in the care and feeding of our pitching staff.

    And I agree with NatsLady. We need pitching, not another high contract OF.. geesh.





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