Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Last year discussion revisited

My thinking was that the Nats would trade for a starting catcher that wouldn't cost much and would cover the position for a year or two while they figured out a longer solution.

It made sense at the time. They like Severino but he didn't seem ready. That meant more AAA playing time for him. They were fine with playing out the string with Lobaton as the back-up as he was familiar with the pitching staff and cheap and here already. They needed a starter.  But starting catchers weren't really available. The best FA available was Wieters who wasn't really good and likely to get a longer more expensive contract, and after that  it was fill-in players. The Nats generally don't sign those types so I figured they'd trade for one.

Turns out they DID trade for one, Derek Norris, who I dismissed because his 2016 was SO bad. But he was cheap and available for a low-minors propsect years away*.  Then they either realized he wasn't going to be good or heard about his off the field issues (or both) and went in another direction. They would sign Wieters who didn't get cheaper but did get forced into a shorter contract, for 2yrs - 20 million. The expectation was he'd give the Nats his typical average seasons and that'd be ok, if a little pricy. If the Nats got lucky he'd maybe have a minor rebirth.

Wieters though collapsed hard and was probably the worst starting catcher in baseball in 2017. Severino wasn't ready and couldn't fill his spot. Lobaton was the diminishing back-up they thought he was and couldn't help either. The end result was a line-up hole. It could have been addressed at the trade deadline. Old friend Kurt Suzuki might have been available. Old tease Jon LuCroy was. But the Nats stood pat here and were rewarded with more terribleness and possibly a series losing performance in Game 5.

My outisde the box suggestion would have been awful as Mesoraco was an all or nothing gambit that would have gotten the Nats nothing because he was hurt.

Presumed Plan : Nats stick with Wieters for one more year because they are paying him. Severino is moved up to back-up or take-over depending. Really though the Nats are waiting out their new catching flavor of the year, Raudy Read.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Wieters has a 10 million dollar player option for 2018 and will not make anything close to that on the open market. Once he picks up that option the Lerners won't want to pay for another catcher just so this guy can sit. Lobaton is a FA and there is no reason to bring him back as his bat is too far gone. Plus it's time to see if Severino can hit, so it's time to get him 150+ ABs in the majors. Moving Severino up to the majors permanently allows for Raudy Read to go up from AA to AAA to see how real his bat is. It all works out if you can accept the fact Wieters has to be on the team in some capacity.

The fact that signing a catcher isn't likely isn't a terrible thing. The three most likely guys to garner interest are LuCroy, who's probably fading; Wellington Castillo, who is selling high; and Alex Avila, who has an injury riddled history. There's going to be one bargain here, one overpay, and one bad overpay all for average play. Trading for a catcher (that doesn't cost much) is a possibility. Though if JT Realmuto goes on the market expect the young, overall solid catcher who's still in arbitration for 3 more seasons to fetch a nice set of prospects. Likely more than the Nats are willing to give when they (again) think they have a possible replacement coming up in a year or two.

Also, if you are going to have a hole in your offense, catcher, which can be a hard spot to fill, is the place to have it if you can get some decent defense out of it. Wieters, despite his lapses in the playoffs, is generally ok. He's not seen as a good framer, but Severino is better at that and also regarded well as a defensive catcher.

Problems with Presumed Plan :Wieters stinks. He was God awful this year and he hasn't been someone you really want to see in a line-up since 2012. The best you can hope for is a return to his "I guess this is ok" from 2015. But since you give more weight to recent performance and trend lines the fairer expectation for 2018 is another terrible year. Severino, basically has had a couple VERY brief outings where he has hit in his entire career. The rest of it shows he can't hit. Could he "get it"? Sure, it happens. But we're getting closer and closer to the time you give up on Severino as a batter and again the expectation for next season would be a pretty terrible year at the plate.

Wrapping that together the expectation for Wieters/Severino would be again to have the worst offensive catching duo in baseball. That's a big problem. 

My take : If the Nats goal was different, you could accept the fact the Nats had to live with this. Sometimes you sign players and it doesn't work out. The fans and the system of penalizing high payrolls mostly allow owners to play to the "we can't afford to pay someone else" card. These are things that are part of the game. You may not like it. You may want it to change. However, you understand that's how it is. Accepting that, then yes Wieters is on the team, probably getting another chance to start and that's all there is to it.  

Continuing, Lobaton should be gone. No brainer. Severino isn't probably ever going to hit but since there isn't a better option (if you aren't going to pay for a starter, why would you for a back-up?) you might as well prove that. If Severino looks better, he can start and Wieters can ride the pine. This is unlikely as Severino's best performance with the bat with more than 48 PAs is an OPS of .705 in High-A ball in 2014. That's not a good season either. The more plausible scenario is he stinks and Wieters stinks. The most likely "getting lucky" scenario involves Raudy Read, who has hit better than Severino consistently in the minors, hits in AAA and comes up and plays acceptably in the majors with Severino back in AAA and Wieters on the bench.

Of course the Nats goal is to win the Series. That's what they pretty much said when firing Dusty and with that goal in mind you can't go into the season with a position where the expectation is worst in the majors. They should try hard to trade for Realmuto and if that costs them some prospects so be it. If they fail at that for whatever reason they should spend money on one of those three free agents and let Severino split time with Read in AAA. If they fail with that they should do something else. Again, you can't go into a season with "this position has little hope of being anything less than absolute garbage" and sell yourselves as a real contender.

Do I have faith they really will follow through on that goal talk and it wasn't just something to say to make letting Dusty go face fewer arguements? No, I don't.

Out of the box suggestion :
Name Raudy Read the starter out of camp assuming he doesn't look lost in Spring Training. What kills me up there is not only is the position expected to be terrible but there is little hope of anything else. Wieters isn't going to hit well - he hasn't in years. Maaaaaaybe he will be below average with declining defense. Severino isn't going to hit well - he hasn't ever. Maaaaaaybe he will be well below average with good defense. That's the best case I can put together in my head for these two.

However, Read? Read is a complete unknown. Sure he hasn't hit THAT well, merely kind of average. And no he isn't as polished on defense as either of the other guys but I can at least envision a scenario where we get a Raudy Read who provides the Nats with average offense and average defense from the catcher position. Maybe it doesn't work out that way but at least there is hope, in a way that squares with a team trying to win it all. Not every position can be a winner, but you can't have one that you know is going to be a loser, because something else will go wrong. It's not a great bet but at least it's a bet, not a foregone conclusion.

*Pedro Avila who did actually well in A ball. He struggled pretty mightily initially in his move to High-A but then really rocked in the stretch after that. I wouldn't be surprsied to see him in the Padres Top 10 list going into 2018. Of course that's Top 10 for an organization here.


Jimmy said...


Anonymous said...

Please, no to Girardi.

Yes to Raudy!

Anonymous said...

Harper, let's entertain the fantasy that the Lerners would pay Girardi what it would take to get him here. What's your take on him as a Yankees fan?

PotomacFan said...

Seriously? Joe Girardi is finishing a 4-year, $16 million contract with the Yankees. Apparently, the point of contention on a new contract is that Girardi wants a raise. So, Barry Svrluga, why do we think the Nats have any interest in, or chance of signing, Girardi, who will want AT LEAST $4 million per year, and at least 4 years. The Lerners have repeatedly shown that they won't pay more than $2 million per year, for a maximum of 2 years. And the Yankees probably have a better future than the Nats after 2018, with lots of young talented players under team control at modest salaries.

And, way off topic, $400 million for Bryce makes no sense. The LA Angels have the BEST player in baseball (with a more favorable contract), who performs every year, and he has been in the playoffs once, a 3 - 0 loss to Kansas City (and Trout was 1 for 15). It's much better to have several really good players, Rendon being one of them.

KW said...

I'd be very interested in Harper's opinion on Girardi. I don't pay that much attention to the "junior circuit."

KW said...

Catcher: sign Avila or Castillo. Neither is going to be that expensive. Platoon Wieters with whichever one you get, then slowly ease out Wieters as he continues to not hit.

I agree with Harper with the thinking that Severino isn't going to hit enough to be an MLB regular. Read's defense has always been suspect.

blovy8 said...

I agree with the idea of maybe giving up too much for Realmuto, but it would be pretty surprising if that happened. Wieters is a sunk cost now, but there's always a chance they can eat some of his money and get some desperate team whose starter is hurt or has really lousy catchers to get him to "work with their young pitchers" or whatever cliche is necessary to keep the service time clock off of anyone useful in their system. It's a lot to invest in the position in the spring, but 2018 really has to be a year where they maximize the roster. Even so, I expect this to be like upgrading the rotation. The #3 sort of starter required is probably going to needier clubs after the Nats get outbid on the viable free agents and trade options. I know this position will be coming in a future post, and the offseason is not even upon us yet, but Fedde does not look ready, Cole stinks, Ross will be out, and no one should want Edwin Jackson to be that guy.

Anonymous said...

Wieters is a mess created by the Lerners in the first place. Are we sure they have decent business acumen...they don't seem to have it when it comes to baseball business. Signing Wieters was a bad decision. Even worse, if they signed him just to get in good with Boras with Harper free agency approaching. I'm also with PotomacFan, let Harper walk (or trade him), and get some several "Rendon-types"!

Also, I'd go all-in on Realmuto, but the truth is, he might not cost much with Marlins looking to shed payroll, right?

billyhacker said...

It's a lousy situation, but I think you use your best weapon: Rizzo. Wait for the trade deadline to see which team isn't in it any longer and at least you got most of your salary out of Wieters - losing a month and half isn't that big a deal. Besides, the Nats don't need a better team for the regular season, they need one for the playoffs.

Also, all the stuff I posted on Dusty seems wrong according to Heyman, who seems to have the best insight into what happened (which is: nothing).

Harper said...

Anon @ 8:53 - He's good. He's flexible in his line-ups, doesn't mind benching players who aren't performing (stars or not). His biggest issues are learning to manage desperately (he's better but still not good) and, in my opinion, not being aggressive enough on the basepaths. He's a long term thinker - during a season and during a season and it tends to work out just as well as any other method but it can be frustrating if you are used to more "win every game" managing.

Anon @ 9:25 - Realmuto is still on minor league contract so it's not a shedding payroll thing. In fact you'd probably have to take a bigger salary along with him (Dee Gordon or Martin Prado).

The big Marlin deals are
Stanton - huge contract, star when he's right like 10 years 300 mill left
Yelich - probably a fair deal - someone will grab him 4 yrs ~40 mill left
Gordon - paid like Yelich, performs like a bench player 3 yrs under 40 mill left
Prado - old and hurt, 2 yrs 28.5 mill left
Chen - HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no one should touch this contact full of expensive player options

Harper said...

I have a hard time characterizing Girardi. I guess he's like a Showalter but not as much a martinet. He is definitely a "I'm manager, my decision" guy not the type to be a player's manager type who lets things go if the performance is there, but he doesn't take that to the extremes guys like that usually do, like extra practices or dress codes. It's kind of strictly in between the lines. He also mixes analytics with gut feelings. He is not dismissive of the former, which is why talk of a "more analytic" manager is probably nonsense. You'd have to get a strict number cruncher to find a real difference.

blovy8 said...

I agree that Yelich is the guy with value on that list. I doubt they're really looking to move Realmuto, but they could get a lot for him. Stanton can still opt out, is going to be paid a ton, and has everyone forgotten about how often he gets injured? There are a LOT of available 2B around, so the Marlins have no trade leverage with Gordon. Prado is old, but they could rebuild his value a bit by keeping him, since his track record might be worth sometihng. Chen is crappy and they probably have no choice but to keep him because it would still cost them money to get anyone remotely useful and who's gonna pitch anyway? Espinosa-style dump trades are for guys you feel badly for - does he have that rep?

blovy8 said...

Girardi would tick off all the boxes except the most important one. The contract. The Nats treat their managers like a free-agent reliever and want to pay them like a backup catcher. Girardi started WAY too often.

cass said...

Everything you said generally makes sense, Harper, but I am a bit confused by how people react to pitchers vs. position players.

In 2012, Drew Storen was a fantastic reliever in the regular season. Then he blew game 5 of the NLDS after being over used and by not getting some close calls and/or missing by a couple inches for the NDLS-winning strikeout. As a result, he was blamed and lost his job as closer and eventually demoted to the minors while sick.

In 2017, Matt Wieters was the worst starting catcher in baseball. Then, in game 5 of the postseason he cost the Nats the NLDS by not being able to, you know, catch the ball and subsequently throwing it away. He also couldn't hit a lick the entire series aside from the admittedly entertaining surprise bunt hit. He... apparently will keep his job.

I feel for Matt Wieters and am not saying people should be blaming him more, exactly, but wow is that quite a difference when Wieters was more responsible of the NLDS loss and contributed to it by making ill-advised decisions rather than just failing to execute by a few inches. I guess you could get back to the fact that the umpires literally misinterpreted the rulebook and Wieters was correct but still he should have never, ever thrown that ball.

I do feel like most people see pitchers as "other" and hitters as more familiar. I guess more people have experience hitting? Not entire sure why other than that.

sirc said...

The Nats paid Derick Norris 5 million to play for another team in 2017. Why wouldn't they pay a manager that in 2018?

Josh Higham said...

Mike Maddux to the Cardinals. Probably a good pickup for them. If the Nats hire Martinez in a hurry, which Heyman suggests they might, he could bring Bosio with him?

Anonymous said...

Cass, the answer to you question is alternatives. There are many actual good relief pitchers in the world and there are many potential good relief pitchers in the world (most of the potential good relief pitchers are ex-starters who couldn't cut it, like Andrew Miller). Drew Storen was demoted because there were a lot of guys who could capably take his place, and the Nats tried one of them.

There aren't a lot of good catchers in the world. Finding a replacement for Wieters is hard, which is why it will cost a lot, which is why it's unlikely.

As to your more general point - who played worse in the playoffs, Storen or Wieters? I tend to agree that it was Wieters. That doesn't make him easier to replace.

Train your kids to be switch-hitting catchers, ladies and gentlemen.

Sammy Kent said...

Matt Weiters is the 2017 version of Adam Dunn. Good for a run or two every game. You're just not sure for which team. Give him his release and name Severino or Lobaton the starter. I don't care if Loby can't hit his weight. He steals ten strikes a game for his pitchers, all of whom love working with him. He has a knack for timely clutch hits, far more than any sub-.200 hitter should have, and he for sure doesn't wing the ball all over the outfield trying to throw runners out.

If there was any doubt about how stupid the Lerners are it was erased by the news that Mike Maddux was snapped up by the Cardinals.

BxJaycobb said...

Supposedly Raudy Read is a real lousy defender right now. Which is a problem.
Harper: what would Fish say to MAT, Stevenson, and Severino/Read? Same question what if we throw in Fedde? What about Kieboom (sorta need to sign Rendon then), Severino/Read, and MAT?

BxJaycobb said...

I think Kieboom, MAT, and one of the catching prospects would be compelling, although worth noting that MAT is not IDEAL for a rebuilding franchise. He’s further along in his contract then u think.....

KW said...

BxJ, who are you proposing to trade with the Fish for? Yelish has a very appealing contract, but because of that, he would "cost" more in terms of return than even Stanton.

Speaking of whom, I'm actually intrigued by the thought of trading for Stanton, now, much like the Nats went on and got the replacement for JZim before he was actually gone. Stanton's supposedly bad contract would be much better than whatever Bryce is going to get. Plus if Stanton opts out, he'll only cost 3/$77M.

Nuts? Possibly. Unlikely because the Nat budget is already fairly tight? Probably. Still, Harper + Stanton in the same OF for one year with a juiced ball would be worth double the price of admission. What would it take? I'd say Taylor, Cole, and Fedde might be enough if the Nats don't ask for much or any salary relief. The Fish DESPERATELY need pitching, even second-tier pitching, and they will want MLB-ready guys.

My offseason ultimate fantasy involves Girardi, Stanton, and Bumgarner.

Anonymous said...

This might be a stretch but isnt it possible to work wth Weiters to improve some things on the margins? like maybe get fit and maintain it throughout the season. Or for starters button up your jersey Matt

Froggy said...

Is a Ramos reunion possible?

KW said...

Anon 5:45 -- I hear there's a former catcher available as a potential manager. He might have a few tips!

BxJaycobb said...

Realmuto. Responding to Harper’s post.

BxJaycobb said...

The idea of Taylor Cole and Fedde for Giancarlo Stanton is....not happening. They’re looking to use him as the main way to rebuild franchise, not just as a salary dump.

BxJaycobb said...

It’s because we owe him money and he’s untradable, unlike Storen.

BornInDC said...

Say what you will about Wieters, and he has many deficiencies, but he sure knew the rules of baseball about catchers than his manager or the umpires did in Game 5:

MLB’s Joe Torre confirms that Nationals were hurt by a blown call in NLDS Game 5

And I really fault Dusty for apparently not listening to his catcher, who seemed to know the rule, and/or not knowing he could have the rule checked in NY and/or not having someone on his staff that he could reliably delegate such things as knowing that Dusty could have the rule checked in NY.

Although Dusty may have been underpaid, at even his underpaid salary, a lot of people making a lot less money have been fired for making potentially less costly decisions.

And based on the information from Torre, I fault Dusty more than I fault the umpire Layne for what happened. This type of call is rare; in fact, I had never seen it before this game and I'm guessing I'm not alone. So unless you have the rulebook in front of you, I think even an experienced umpire would automatically know that the only judgement to be made on the backswing call was whether the catcher was hit (not whether the catcher was interfered with, which was a different rule and what Layne focused on, because it is an unusual but more common situation).

Some people could argue: How could Wieters know the rule but Layne not know the rule? But, when you think about it, an umpire has to deal with all of the rules in the rulebook. In contrast, as a catcher, Wieters, has a particular incentive to know all the rules that apply to a catcher. Also, it's possible that Wieters' had been hit in the mask before, but Layne had never had to deal with a catcher having been hit in the mask before, but only with a catcher being interfered with when he tried to pick up a ball.

BornInDC said...

Should read: Say what you will about Wieters, and he has many deficiencies, but he sure knew more about the rules of baseball about catchers than his manager or the umpires did in Game 5:

KW said...

Many national commentators are saying that Stanton is 99% sure to be gone from the Marlins. Jeter et al. have issued the edict for major salary cuts, and Stanton is far and away their biggest salary drag. He has a no-trade and has to approve any move, though, and he has made clear that he is tired of losing, so the Phillies need not apply. So: A) he's leaving Miami; B) he's only going to approve a move to a contending team; and C) the Fish have little leverage because of his contract, the fact that they're under orders to trade him, and the fact that he has to approve the trade.

All of that means that Stanton is available, relatively cheaply when compared with his value as a player, to any contender. And there are few other players out there who could shift the balance of power more dramatically than Stanton . . . if he's healthy. Is it a bigger risk for the Nats to trade for him, or to see him end up with the Dodgers or Cubs?

KW said...

Also, no way am I giving up Taylor in a trade for Realmuto. Realmuto would be a nice piece to add, but Taylor is currently worth more to the Nats than catching relief.

Honestly, I fear the Nats will remain "committed" to Wieters for 2018 and won't make a real aggressive move to improve in that area. I don't know that they'd even go as far as spending 2/$10M on Avila.