Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Presumed Plan : The Nats will once again pencil Wilson Ramos in as the full-time starter. They will fill in the back-up role with whatever junk they can find.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Wilson Ramos has been the "next" starter since the year after being acquired. However a rash of injuries (torn ACL in 2012, hamstring issues in 2013) has limited him to just over 100 games in the past two years. When he has been healthy he has performed well enough offensively (.269 / .327 / .449 over past 3 seasons) to put himself in mix of the Top 10 hitting catchers. There's also potential there (.354 OBP last year, .470 SLG this year) for something special if it all comes together in the same year. His defense can be erratic but is generally viewed favorably. He is entering arbitation this year which will put him in line for a raise but he will still be cheap in relation to how much he should be paid. All in all, if you can look past the injury issue, it's a no-brainer to make Wilson the starter.

As for the back-up decision, finding a good back-up catcher is hard. Here are some of the lines put up by guys that got over 150 ABs this year. Hanigan .198 / .306 / .261, Mathis .181 / .251 / .284, Phegly .206 / .223 / .299, Maldanado .169 / .236 / .284. Given how little production you get, the difference between spending a little and spending nothing is virtually non-existant. So why spend anything? If you can find a lefty bat to complement Ramos who's a good defender well that's good enough right?

Problems with Presumed Plan : Wilson Ramos has played just over 100 games the past 2 years. As injury risks go, he's near the top. If he remains healthy, things work; if he doesn't, things fall apart fast. You see those terrible lines up there? Jhonaton Solano, the most likely internal solution, would kill to hit that well. .146 / .180 / .188 this year. Outside of last years minor bench role (EVERYONE hit last year) he's shown no proclivity to hit well even in the minors. Sandy Leon is a bit more promising, if only because of his age (25 next year - Solano will turn 29 in August of next season) but last year's performance at the plate makes 2012's look like a fluke rather than a revelation. If the Nats go with the usual plan and Ramos goes down they could be looking at a huge gaping hole in the lineup.

My take : I think the presumed plan can work, if Rizzo is willing to act quickly if Ramos goes down. Why spend money on a guy that may never play?  Of course, Rizzo has shown no such ability to make these kinds of in-season moves. Therefore I think it's worthwhile to spend money on the best possible back-up the Nats can get.

Who is that exactly?  Probably Geovany Soto (.245 / .328 / .466 - 31). The better ones (Salty, McCann, Navarro, Pierzynski) are likely to get starting gigs. Carlos Ruiz would like to return to Philly and they'd like to have him. That leaves us in an area with John Buck (older, not as good a hitter), Humberto Quintero (older, really not as good a hitter), and Ramon Hernandez (really older, might be done). I suppose you could look at Brayan Pena, as he switch hits with some level of skill, but he might be turning into a mess behind the plate after years of average play. And of course there is always bringing Suzuki back, but I see a guy on the way out.

So that's what I would do. Ramos starter, Soto back-up, if possible.

Outside the Box Suggestion : There really isn't a good outside the box suggestion here that keeps Ramos on the team. You don't move young cheap catchers to other positions. However how about this : Trade Ramos. As a young cheap catcher he is a fairly wanted commodity.  Put him in a package for David Price and then sign Brain McCann weaking your main rival and bringing in the best choice for production the next couple of years. Sure he's an injury risk but you were willing to start Ramos who's a bigger one, right?  Win now. Let the team disintegrate in 2016.


Bote Man said...

Catcher is such a demanding position that you can dispense with the "IF he stays healthy". That aint happening.

I haven't looked at who is really available, but I think a lefty platoon complement to Ramos would be a smart move. Then play them 60/40 or whatever makes sense to ease the pain across both of them.

There is something to be said for the value of defense and calling a game, but I have no good handle on how to value that.

Plan on Ramos to miss substantial time; just plan on it. If you think he'll miss too much time, then make Ramos the backup and plug in a better starter.

Harper said...

Fairly sure that Pena is the only backup LH available.

JonQuest said...

There's Harper. Oh wait, he's a left fielder now. Bummer. He would have been perfect!

Chas R said...

I don't know if this is where we really need to spend money right now. Yes, Rizzo has not been able to make in-season moves, but I doubt he will also be interested in making a move to strengthen catcher when there other priorities.

I say go with Ramos and Leon/Solano. Ramos gets hurt again, why wouldn't Rizzo go after another Suzuki as he did in 2012 (yes, I know it was way late, but at least he did it).

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Rizzo say on his 106.7 mid-day show that his priorities to fix Nats deficiencies are 1) Improve the team's situational hitting (read- RISP); 2) Improve bench production; 3) middle relief.

Wookiee of the Year said...

What about going after a bench bat who's shown some ability to play catcher, like trading for Ryan Doumit with the Minnesota Twins? That way, when Ramos goes down, you have another catching option who can hit fairly well?

Donald said...

For what it's worth, Sandy Leon is a switch hitter, so he could the lefty bat against righties. At this point, I'm fine with the presumed plan. While Rizzo has been slow to make changes mid-season, catcher is one area where that hasn't really been the case. He dealt Capps to get Ramos and brought in Suzuki when it was clear that Flores wasn't working out.

The reason I'm behind the presumed plan is that there's so much upside with Ramos. He could really be elite and carry this team if he stays healthy and doesn't regress. I think they have to roll the dice with him. He's earned that.

Anonymous said...

Another idea is to take your chances with Ramos and then pay out the nose if (when) he gets hurt. If he last past June, then there is always someone willing to trade. Though the downside as you (and others) have pointed out is that Rizzo doesn't pull the trigger quickly.

Italian Stallion said...

Can't help but see Flores whenever I look at Ramos. Injury prone, but gets your attention whenever he is healthy with pop and the arm. I know they are different players, but I am just nervous that one of these injuries is going to end Ramos' career the same way Flores' last injury did. Our organization catchers don't exactly inspire confidence either. Leon has shown the most upside in my opinion, but I don't think he could take over for an extended period of time next season. I agree we need another Kurt Suzuki type guy to provide a .240-.250 BA, or at least someone who isn't an automatic out. Hey maybe put Zim at catcher since a couple of good throws late in the season seem to have convinced everyone that his throwing woes are over! Let him hose runners at second! Then we have room for Cano at 2nd and Rendon at 3rd, and all of a sudden it is World Series or Bust round 2! That would have been my outside the box idea, but I like yours too. Go Nats, see you in Spring.

Nattydread said...

Gotta roll the dice with Ramos. He's earned it and he is the catching investment with upside.

Zimmerman, Espinoza, Werth and Harper all carry similar injury risks.

No sense in giving away pieces to get someone who is not what Ramos can be.

Lets hope 2014 gets a better result.

blovy8 said...

My guess would be that Soto will try for starting catcher money, stay in Texas at starting $$ where they like him, or at least look for a place where he will be the #1. Any decent defensive catcher with a shot at a 100 ops really should fire his agent if he can't get that. He could be overpaid into that role, but again, that's being a little freer with money than the Lerners are likely to be.

I have to say paying 15 million more for McCann doesn't make a whole lot of sense either to me given the vagaries of that position. Posada is about the only guy I can think of who was worth the kind of contract McCann's going to command. The Braves have Gattis so they have the leverage not to bring him back. He's also an obstructing idiot who doesn't allow guys who hit home runs to touch the plate because the guy they beaned a few times got happy about hitting a homer off them.