Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Monday, October 24, 2016

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

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) 


CP said...

Other outside the box possibilities?

-Wilson signs the QO. Probably unlikely, but if the FA market dries up maybe he takes the risk?
-Nats re-sign Wilson for something on the range of 3-30 that they offered pre ACL tear.

I think Wilson would be better off in the AL given his injury history and the Nats will want to hoard these dollars, but I'd give one of these happening an outside chance (<10%). Thoughts?

Carl said...

So what do we think becomes of Ramos? Before the injury, I figured the Nats would make him a (relatively) lowball offer, then the QO and he'd sign elsewhere for a pile of money. After the ACL, I'm not sure. Would the Nats give him that lowball offer for 2-3 years, allowing him to rehad and hopefully come back? Would anyone else give him that (esp. for more money)? Granted that's not a foolproof solution for 2017, as he probably won't be back until June.

Harper said...

CP - Any Wilson ideas unfortunately aren't included here because I don't think he actually plays in 2017.

Carl / CP - I think he gets a Jon Leiber & Yankees esque deal. Two years, extremely back loaded (so something like 750K next year, 4 million in 2018) with a fair amnount of incentives and probably a decent paying team option for 2019.

Doug S said...

I think the Nats will sign Ramos to a 1 year deal for something around the QO. He should return mid-season. This allows Ramos to rebuild value and the Nats to assess whether Severino is the catcher of the future.

G Cracka X said...

So, if the C position is going to be worse this year, no matter which way the team goes, how likely is it that the team will put up <95 wins in '17?

G Cracka X said...

Also, the Cubs seem to have plenty of catchers. Can we trade for one of them?

Harper said...

GCX - Not as bad as you might think. Another 90 games of Trea, even if he's not as awesome will help, especially given how bad the players were he replaced. Zimm can't be any worse or else you'd replace him. If Bryce can be... I don't know.... BRYce at least and Ross can give the Nats a full healthy year. I'd wager they come close. Though we have to see what moves they, and everyone else in the division, make.

you can get Montero. He's not good and really expensive. Want that?

Fries said...

OTB suggestion: Move bryce to C. Who cares about protecting the knees of an overrated player that will be a yankee in a couple years? (I jest)

Catcher is going to be ugly next year, which is why I think you go with Severino. Cheap and potentially the catcher of the future, so why not give him the ABs and hope he comes through? Even if he hits .250 with no pop, that's a decent line from the 8-hole (assuming Danny is gone)

Anonymous said...

The thing that is confusing about this, and I agree with the analysis, is that these were the options before Ramos got hurt and turned down the Nats offer. The Nats must have known that he was going to turn it down. As Harper has pointed out, it was a fair offer but definitely to the low end even factoring in Ramos' injury history. If none of these 4 options is particularly attractive, it tells me that there must be a fifth option out there or else they would have given Ramos a more robust offer. I guess that Rizzo might believe Lobaton or Severino are adequate starter's but he usually is a better judge of talent. So what is the fifth option? Some big trade for Lucroy? That would be my guess.

SM said...

Devin Mesoraco's surgical history--torn labrum in his left hip, torn labrum in his right hip, torn labrum in his left shoulder--makes me wonder if he can even squat.

Who knew Mesoraco had so many labrums (labra?)in his body?

If that doesn't make him a likely Nats target--that and his relatively cheap $7 million salary--then hailing from Punxsutawney clinches it. He'll report to Spring Training on Groundhog Day.

Harper said...

Fries - the problem with Severino is that what if Lobaton is hitting like 2014/2015 and Severino is hitting not an empty .250 but an empty .210? You have no Plan B. Trade for a guy or sign a guy and let Severino be your Plan B.

Anon - the Nats are nothing if not thorough in their attempts to get the best deal they can. I bet if it were today and Ramos was healthy they'd offer Ramos a bigger deal. Big enough? That I can't tell you.

blovy8 said...

Well, I think Vogt's just hitting arbitration like Realmuto, isn't he? He'll still be cheap enough they can keep him until someone gets desperate and drives up the price. Still, they have another left-handed catcher in Maxwell they're probably ready to go to at some point, maybe. The Castros seem decent targets, but that's going to be even more empty at-bats to watch. I'd almost take a shot on Severino being a reasonable contact hitter for no real reason whatsoever except to watch a lot of 6-3's probably.

DezoPenguin said...

I like the assumed plan well enough. Castillo is a functional MLB catcher. Severino may be developing into a functional catcher that can step in. Lucroy is a free agent after this year and if we feel like throwing too much money at talent we could do that then and at least *get* talent. If he can be had for a reasonable cost like mentioned in the article, great. (Also, as long as we're talking to the Diamondbacks, it'd be a good time to see if Rizzo can get the crazy people there to let us have Goldschmidt, because hey, Diamondbacks.)

SM said...

"...if you are hoping for a miracle;" "...a gamble;" " better hope."

I've never seen coded language so plainly written. Is there a contending major league team whose catching situation is more dire than that of the Nats?

I have two questions:

Is the catcher situation the most urgent roster issue the Nats need to fix?

And what's "the little girl with the curl?"

Anonymous said...

@SM--"Little girl . . ."

The Longfellow children's rhyme.

SM said...

@ Anon 11:42

Got it. Thanks.

Josh Higham said...

Most commenters have been ignoring the QO idea when it's brought up. A QO is looking to be what, $17-18 million? Wilson won't play until June at the earliest. Likely will not be strong or capable until a few months after that. Possibly will not be himself at any point during the 2017 season. Letting him sign a $17 million contract to rehab his knee is not explicitly a horrible idea in a vacuum, because maybe he's finally all better and rested and hitting for power and average in September and October, carrying the team to a championship!

However, the Nats aren't in a vacuum. Rizzo has a whole lot of salary on the books already, and an uncomfortable amount of it is on two players who are not particularly likely to play/produce the whole year (Stras, Zimm). The Nats are expected to push hard for Melancon. They need to pay a CF or SS. There is no way it makes sense to pay Ramos $17 mil to play less than half a season at his new, uncertain, post-ACL full strength.

They probably shouldn't even offer the QO to him in hopes of getting a draft pick, because he's a smart man and will take it.

Clip&Store said...

I'm on board the #HARPERTOCATCHER train. If it's as much of a shoe in he leaves/goes to the Yankees then might as well maximize his value. Plus I'm sure he would love it. He doesn't seem to like the corner outfield that much.

Ole PBN said...

What about Christian Vazquez from Boston? Excellent defensively with a hand-cannon. Not much of a hitter, but from what I hear, does a great job of handling a pitching staff. With the emergence of Sandy Leon, whom I have to think is the favorite for the job over there, do what do you think it would take for the Nats to bring Vazquez over here and is it a good idea?

Harper said...

SM - catcher is the only major problem that would be super hard to solve. You can get an OF (either CF or corner and shift Bryce) if you think Danny needs to be replaced. You can find a first baseman that's average if you want to replace Zimm. There are options if you don't like the back of the rotation or if Strasburg for some reason doesn't make it back.

Catcher is hard. Cleveland has a terrible situation since Gomes got hurt and can't get right. Substitute Mets and d'Arnaud into last sentence. Baltimore wasn't great with Wieters. Toronto is in a tough spot if Martin can't rebound. Tigers' guy is defense first, defense only.

Harper said...

Ole PBN - Leon's first 40 games or so were amazing. like .390 5 HR, 12 2B, 2 3B. But his last 30 or so were pretty bad .204 4 2B

I doubt they are going to hand anything over just yet for what amounts to a good month and a half.

Zimmerman11 said...

We got best case scenario with Ramos this season (and that INCLUDES him tearing up his knee and missing the postseason). I'll pass on multiple years to the Buffalo, starting with his age 30 season, even if shouting WILLLLLLSOOOOONNNNNNNN was one of my favorite parts of Nats games.

Ramos played more games this season than he ever had before ...

2012 - 25
2013 - 78
2014 - 88
2015 - 128

That ain't getting better the next three years.

Mythra said...

The Nats as a team battd .236 in the 8th hole. That's horrid. And if Severino hits .250, he's already improved that slot in the order. Yes, you lose Danny running into 20 HRs a year, but the assumption I'm making is Danny played his last game in a Nats uniform this year, barring some miracle or preferential treatment by Rizzo.

I'm on the Severino train. If he's not cutting it, look for something at the deadline or have a plan B signed with Suzuki or someone else.

Zimmerman11 said...

The Nats team batted .236 in the 8th hole and hit 25 HRs... while playing above average defense... that's good for 1.7 WAR.

Severino isn't replacing the 8th hitter... he's replacing the (for parts of the season) 5th hitter who was good for 3.5 WAR.

Can't have 7 be Severino and 8 be Espinosa next season. That'd be a killer. Especially if Zim doesn't improve.

ClassOf87 said...

Not sure why trading for Castillo is viewed as meh. His numbers the last three seasons are just fine for a catcher you don't pay a lot:

2014 13HR/46RBI .237/.296/.389
2015 19/57 .243/.306/493
2016 14/68 .26/.322/.423

And: averaged 111 games last three seasons.

Personally, I'd give Severino 40-50 games in a platoon with Castillo, but if you prefer Lobaton, okay. I don't expect C to be a big offensive spot, and in that context, Castillo's numbers hold up fine, IMHO.

Josh Higham said...

@Mythra I'm with Zimm11. Rizzo's job is to shuffle/replace the following fWAR: Danny 1.7, Trea 3.3, Wilson 3.5. 8.5 WAR. (let's ignore the serious drag of CF for the first half)

Give Trea more games and maybe a slight dropoff from this year. Call it 5 WAR from short. Now, assume that Rizzo gets an above average but not wonderful outfielder. 3ish. That leaves only .5 WAR for a rookie catcher who has never hit particularly well. Very doable. What if Rizzo keeps Danny because he can't come up with a good outfielder at a good price? Then Trea's 5 WAR come at CF, Danny's 2ish at SS, and now C has to provide 2ish. That's a tall order.

The catcher discussion gets a lot less stressful and depressing if Rizzo finds an upgrade for Danny's bat to play CF. Until Rizzo has a good center fielder on the books, we have to assume Danny is still on the roster and catcher is a hole.

#Werthquake (Formerly clip & store) said...

@josh Danny on the roster isn't the issue.. I want him on the roster... Just not as a starter.

Alexander Freeman said...

The Nationals will spend big this summer. I'm fairly certain of this because a) they swung (and missed) big on Zobrist and Heyward so the Lerners are clearly letting Rizzo finally spend some big money and b) the Nats have more question marks this offseason than any other one before. Because of this, I think Rizzo uses the FA market to get a catcher. I want them to get Lucroy but, like Harper says, I don't think Lucroy leaves Texas. At the very least, I expect Rizzo to give him a solid offer and make him think about it. In the end, I think Rizzo likes Wieters because he's another Boras client and he provides a solid, if not stable, bat with him despite some injury history. That's basically describing Ramos in a nutshell. A trade could certainly happen, since this is how Rizzo has operated before, but I think that's only because the Lerners weren't opening up the bank for him before. I think they will now and you'll see upgrades at most question mark positions through a few trades and some FA signings.

blovy8 said...

If they spend big it should probably be to extend a guy like Rendon. Can't imagine Harper's price has come down.

#Werthquake (Formerly clip & store) said...

Summer? Are you in Australia? 😂

Froggy said...

I see all upside to getting Kurt Suzuki back. Since it's pretty certain Gio is retained, Suzuki knows him well and might settle him down and make it all worth it. Besides he would be a good mentor to Severino.

Ryan said...

I'm surprised nobody mentioned Brian McCann as a potential trade option. He'd be a solid stopgap if the Yankees eat some money, and as long as the price in prospects isn't out of this world, he'd provide a decent bat while handling the pitching staff very well. Not the most exciting idea, but they can't fully replace Ramos' production at catcher, he was excellent last year.

Sammy Kent said...

No need to trade for either Suzuki, Castro, or Lucroy if Rizzo wants one of them. They are free agents, and that's the rack where Rizzo does 90% of his shopping for starters. Lucroy has a $5.25MM club option with a $25K buyout.

Here's the current list of available free agent catchers:

Alex Avila (30)
Drew Butera (34)
Jason Castro (30)
Hank Conger (29)
A.J. Ellis (36)
Ryan Hanigan (36) — $3.75MM club option with an $800K buyout
Nick Hundley (33)
Chris Iannetta (34) — $4.25MM club option
Jonathan Lucroy (31) — $5.25MM club option with a $25K buyout
Jeff Mathis (34)
Dioner Navarro (33)
A.J. Pierzynski (40)
Wilson Ramos (29)
Carlos Ruiz (38) — $4.5MM club option with a $500K buyout
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (32)
Geovany Soto (34)
Kurt Suzuki (33)
Matt Wieters (31)

DezoPenguin said...

Sammy--There's no way Texas doesn't pick up Lucroy's club option, unless they extend him instead. Five million for one of the top catchers in baseball? When Sandy Leon was second in the AL in fWAR among catchers (okay, Evan Gattis was technically second, but there's a lot of DH added to Gattis's batting numbers)?

Honestly, catching is pretty much a garbage position leaguewise. Two four-win players (Lucroy, Posey), and three three-win players (Realmuto, Sanchez, Ramos) per fWAR league-wise. Severino managed to actually put up more WAR in his tiny sample size than possible-FA-stopgap Kurt Suzuki did all year.

(The Tigers had two separate catchers, McCann and Salty, who had a lower wRC+ than Danny Espinosa. Severino and Lobaton could be merely bad and be better than that.)

(Weird thing looking at the fWAR charts; if Turner had played a full season at the same pace, he'd have been the best non-Trout CF in all of baseball.)

Jay said...

I say sign Ramos to a two year deal. Hope he comes back by June or July and you have one "trade deadline deal" once he's back. That lets Severino play more in the first half and see if he is the catcher of the future. He seems to think he is a star. However, everything I have read (multiple times on ESPN, SI) says the Nats are going with Wieters. I have thought that since about mid-season. Sort of thing where Boras says fine you can sign Strasburg, but you are going to have pick up Wieters this offseason too. He's a switch hitter that supposedly can still throw and calls a good game. I don't like the fact that Severino pretty much didn't do any of the game calling in the playoffs. I know he's a rookie, but Maddox calling every pitch from the dugout all of next year isn't my idea of fun.

NatsGuy said...

Wouldn't another out-of-the-box idea be your idea from last year: buy low on Derek Norris and hope that 2016 was the outlier? He's still only 27 and prior to last year put up 3 very consistent seasons of 2.2-2.6 WAR, about what we should reasonably have expected from 2017 Ramos without the injury, assuming that he too would see some regression from a career year. Pair Norris and Lobaton, let Severino start at Syracuse, and see where you are at in July. If he goes back to the ~2.5 WAR player he was before, you're a genius, if it doesn't, you see where Severino is at or pickup a Suzuki type at the deadline.

Sammy Kent said...

Dazo Penguin: I'm not the one clamoring for Lucroy. I was just pointing out that he was a FA.

IMHO Rizzo would do just as well going with Lobaton, Severino, and Kieboom and spending that free agent money on a dependable piece of heavy lumber to play elsewhere (1st base, OF).

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