Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Friday, October 26, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Catcher

Last year discussion revisited

Last year we assumed the Nats would stick with Wieters because they were paying him and there were no better options. Severino would back up because they weren't paying him and there were no better options. In a completely forgotten about development the Nats had been speaking very high of Raudy Read to end last year and it seemed reasonable to believe they were hoping he might take a big step in 2018. We all hoped that the above, which objectively appeared to be a failure waiting to happen, would somehow work out. Or maybe the Nats would do something else.

The Nats didn't do something else and it didn't work out. Wieters would have an oddly effective start to the season (homers and walks) get hurt, and hit like 2016 when all was said and done. That wasn't as bad as 2017, but it was still below average. Despite 20% of the Nats fanbase fooling themselves into thinking he could do better, Pedro Severino, the guy who never hit in the minors, didn't hit in the majors. At all. .168 average, 2 homers in 70 games. Read would get suspended in the spring for PEDs. When he came back he hit like he had done before in AA (ok) and floundered in a brief AAA audition. Spencer Kieboom would take his place in the pecking order and he would hit like 2017 Wieters. With none of these guys seen as gold glove defenders to make up for the lack of production at the plate, all in all the Nats had possibly the worst catching situation in the NL.

Presumed Plan : The Nats bring in someone through trade or FA, while Severino, Kieboom, and Read fight for the back-up role

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : They can't enter 2019 as a serious contender with Severino/Kieboom as a plan. That would be taking that "worst catching in the NL" situation and somehow making it worse. No one thinks these guys are going to amount to anything. This is not a plan is a desperation heave into the endzone.

So that being said the only option is to solve this problem from without. There are a handful of catchers available on the market this off-season, most notably Yasmani Grandal, who has spend his whole career as an above average bat. Old friend Wilson Ramos is available. As is former hot thing, Jon Lucroy who can still hold his own behind the plate. The point is - there are catchers available better than Severino/Kieboom for nothing more than money

If trading is in the cards, JT Realmuto seems like the ideal candidate, but there are likely one or two others available (Sal Perez? Cervelli?) at various costs and returns. Again better than Severino/Kieboom.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  Free agents are always a gamble and the catcher position feels even more so. It's a demanding position with hard to define defensive qualities that is often filled with mediocre bats. Some catchers age like fine wine, especially in part-time roles, like former Nat Kurt Suzuki. Others just stop performing entirely, like Russell Martin. Good luck at figuring out which catcher will do that.  If they throw money at it, they could end up with another Wieters situation where the team feels obligated to start the signed guy for the length of the deal.

Trading is a little more secure because you could deal for a younger guy, which mitigates some of the injury risk. Unsurprisingly though - teams don't want to deal young good catchers (which makes Realmuto a rare breed) If a team deals for someone older, they could end up trading for a big fat nothing.

There's nothing here that doesn't apply to every signing but catcher feels more problematic than your average offensive position. That's why there are so many below average catchers out there.

My take : The Nats have to do something, but the catcher slot provides usually minimal rewards that it's very tempting to do little. Why spend 10 million a year over 4 years for a guy that is merely "above average" when 2 mill a year for 2 might snag you a guy just slightly below average? Betting on framing numbers (Grandals are very good)? Why not turn that money into a starter, reliever, or use it to help your Bryce/Rendon situations? 

What it feels like to me is the catcher situation is the last domino to fall. The Nats will grab a back-up 1B, some cheap 2B from the glut, decide what to do on Bryce, decide what to do on Rendon, grab a real SP, and then ok, deal with catcher. Is this ok? Assuming they make all the right decisions above I can see that.

The problem is though, the position isn't really deep enough to wait on. Sit on it too long and you'll find yourself with no good options again and what? Wieters back on a 1mill/yr deal?

Here's what I do - I throw reasonable but cheap contracts at Jon Lucroy and Brian McCann (say 3 mill a year for 2 years a piece) and say you guys are a platoon, deal with it.. Lucroy was a good hitter three years ago, McCann two, chances are you luck into something here. Guys like Lucroy behind the plate which is always appreciated and he may benefit from a split catching situation with more rest. McCann, I know Nats fans hate, but players seem to generally like him and he'll add something to the Nats that they didn't have this year - someone to take media attention if necessary. And it'll be for reasonable costs.

Would I rather trade for Realmuto? Yes. But I don't believe the Nats will part with Robles, or throw everything else at the Marlins, so what's the point of going down that road.  Would I like Grandal on the team? Yes. But I think the cost will be high on him and they haven't shown themselves to be flexible enough to win a bidding war and not let it effect their overall plans. With a strict payroll limit being set I don't want so much sunk into one player at one position.

Out of the box suggestion :

You want OOB? Here's OOB. Trade Strasburg to the Yankees for Gary Sanchez. Yes, yes crazy but hear me out here. This year was bad for Sanchez but everyone in baseball, including the Yankees - who are all but saying don't bother coming knocking around for Gary, seem to think it was just a perfect storm. A few defensive miscues, a few injuries, a slump to start, just snowballed. If everyone is right you get a monster hitter with solid defense for nothing, because you bought low. But you can't really buy low on this guy. Joe Ross + Erick Fedde is a joke offer. So you give up Strasburg. Why Strasburg? Because Strasburg is a guy who misses a month every year, who's working off a TJ arm, who probably tried to skip out on a playoff start last year because he wasn't 100% ready putting his team in an awkward bind, who you have 5 very expensive years left to pay for. At some point that's a check that's going to have to be cashed and better that the Nats aren't left holding the bill.  Sure you have to replace that production in the rotation but with 25+ million freed up with Strasburg gone, you can do it.

It was the era of Stras and Bryce. If it's to end, then really end it.


Anonymous said...

Hot damn that's a spicy OOB suggestion. It does seem like you're robbing Peter to pay Paul, since you're thinning out an already thin rotation. What about trading Eaton+(Kieboom/Garcia)+(Crowe/Denaburg/Fedde/Rodriguez/Romero)+another random prospect the Yankees randomly like (Raudy Read?) for Sanchez? Maybe add in another pitching prospect and add Sonny Gray to the deal?

It kind of assumes that the Nats can/will re-sign Bryce, since you'd be left with a Soto/Robles/Taylor/uhhh Stevenson outfield if Bryce walks. But maybe the Yankees are privately willing to cut bait on Sanchez, and if so, they get a ready-made replacement for Brett Gardner, plus 2+ higher level prospects.

G Cracka X said...

Very intriguing OOB. At first, I was going to say, 'That doesn't make sense. Its the "DBack" fallacy', but the wild card here is payroll. So, the high level picture for the Nats would be Strasburg for Sanchez + Sign/Trade for a Pitcher with all the extra $$ saved. Not a bad idea indeed.

The question is: Would the Yankees actually do this deal? They've already got Sev and Tanaka, and SS is known for high quality but also injuries.....

Josh Higham said...

@GCX I don't think that's a deal you can pull in the early going of the offseason. But if the Yankees aren't able to pick up at least one of Corbin/Kershaw/Keuchel/Greinke (I think those are the top names that will/could be available, but could be missing big names) and sign only one of Bryce/Machado, they'd have plenty of financial wiggle room to make that move and definite need for rotation improvement, even with some injury risk.

So that move would probably go down once the Nats already had a good idea of whether Bryce would be signing with them.

@Anon I don't think the Yankees have any need at all for Eaton. His value is mostly on offense, at least it was this year, and he can't really play center. The Yankees have a DH who is a totally capable major league outfielder, and there are always decent corner outfielders available for cheapish. I don't think Eaton + parts would be nearly as valuable as Sanchez. Eaton pre-injuries is probably worth trading Sanchez for.

G Cracka X said...

@JH Yes, good point. I was thinking, 'Why don't the Yankees just sign an ace rather than trade for one?' But, I suppose it could work out, depending on how free agency shakes out for the Nats and Yanks. Of course, if the Yanks had to trade for SS because there's no starting pitching left for them to sign after getting MM, then I'm not sure how the Nats will fix their new gaping hole in starting pitching.......

I think Rizzo wants to fix SP, especially since he's believes that is the primary thing in baseball

DezoPenguin said...

The good news is, pretty much every game since the LCS started, Grandal has been costing himself money. The bad news is, do we really want to look that hard at a guy who's managed to get himself benched in the middle of a World Series run by a manager so otherwise hidebound by previous practice that he won't bad Max Muncy against a lefty? SSS is SSS, but then again, Daniel Murphy... Still, he looks like the best option available and will cost only money.

The problem with guys like Lucroy and McCann is that they were bad last year and you don't want to sign old (and catchers age fast) players and hope for bounceback years. Ramos is an inevitable injury risk and he's not a great defender, though the Nats staffs have never had a particular problem pitching to him over the years. Kurt Suzuki looks like the only other catcher on the FA market whom I'd feel comfortable pursuing.

So, I think the best choice is probably to explore a trade. If not for someone who's a home run like Realmuto, at least someone who's adequate. (The nice thing is, you don't have to improve the position all that much to move up from "howling garbage.")

OOB thought: See if the Royals will accept reasonable offers on Salvatore Perez. I suspect they won't, since Moore has some interesting ideas about his veterans, but he's above-average and could be better with a manager willing to give him a day off once in a while.

I don't like Harper's OOB idea, simply because a Nats rotation is far too thin to compete even with Strasburg in it; taking him out leaves us needing two, probably three above-average starters.

SM said...

Your "era of Stras and Bryce" reference points to one of the obvious truths about the Nats.

The so-called "window" is closing on the Nats. Time to re-build or re-load or whatever other euphemism you want to use. The Nats are not a special team, but like any number of other generic teams.

I will note that the neither the Red Sox nor Yankees nor Dodgers ever talk about their "window closing." I can only cite, once more, the wise words of that insolent philosopher @ssln: "the Lerners are real estate men, not baseball men."

Ole PBN said...

After the way Sanchez hit this year, I'd be willing to trade him too. Don't want him (for what it would cost).

ssln said...


Thank you. I kind of like that insolent philosopher moniker. As I often say, if it fits then wear it.

PotomacFan said...

I wish Manny Machado would at least make some effort to hustle. He truly enjoyed watching his long fly ball hit the wall last night, as he leisurely walked to first base. With every new episode of "bad attitude" Manny, I worry that Bryce will be far more appealing to the Phillies than Manny. And I DON'T want to see Bryce go to Philly.

Robot said...

I've come to terms with the idea that Bryce won't be a Nat next year, but if he goes to Philly, he's dead to me.

Josh Higham said...

Ryan Madson seems to actively want to lose the world series. Do you think Rizzo sent him over there with instructions to torpedo the team?

W. Patterson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ssln said...

Madson does again. He has now allowed 7 inherited runners to score. According to Joe Buck, Madson has allowed more inherited runner to score than any other pitcher IN WORLD SERIES HISTORY. Buck finished off the sentence by saying "and it is only game four". What Roberts is going to him again in game five?
Belichick would have had his street clothes burned and made him leave the locker room in his sweaty uniform and cleats. That is the passion that you see in football that you never see in baseball.
Baseball is a marathon that unwinds on warm, languid nights in the summer. Football is a weekly war that begins under the intense heat of the end of the summer and ends in the frigid, bone chilling winds of December or January, if you are lucky enough to make the playoffs and play in the NFC East. Both have their place and time.
The Redskins are giving us what the Nats never gave us in 2018. They are playing above their talent level led by an ancient veteran consumed with a passion to prove that his best football days aren't behind him. The rest of the team is in lock step behind him wanting to see how far he can lead them. Slowly the momentum is building as the rest of the division crumbles into ashes.
No matter how it ultimately turns out, we as fans are given the opportunity to watch a team that is committed and getting perceptibly better each week. It is mid season and the dream of playoffs is still alive. When you were picked to finish last in your division, that is all you can ask for as fans.
The Nats had much more talent on their roster than the Redskins but managed to get much less in results than the Redskins have already achieved. It is that gritty veteran presence that I wrote about. Blame it on Rizzo because he doesn't understand that talent alone is not enough.
The country club attitude that permeates the Nats clubhouse needs to change if you want to see success in post season.

blovy8 said...

There was just as much grit on the Nationals as any other team. Eaton and Scherzer are factories for the damned stuff. Harper has plenty of grit, but he has to be careful because it gets into his machinery when he uses it too much.

blovy8 said...

I do feel like our GM is probably the grittiest executive out there right now. Fat lot of good THAT'S done...

blovy8 said...

I think trading is the first thing to try, but if a deal isn't there, I would agree with you Harper that a late bargain veteran pickup would be likely. Sal Perez is a good target, but 3/36 is a solid deal for him, and he's too iconic to that club to be put on the block very easily and who plays for them? I think Cervelli is more likely, especially since the Pirates are always trying to compete while saving money. His 11.5 million isn't chump change to them if they can use that elsewhere, and it's his last year on the deal. There's a decent relationship between the clubs in trading history, and their backup, Elias Diaz had a very good year. While you'd like to be set for a few years at most positions, catchers just get hurt too much to take big risks unless they're top-five at the job. A big deal for Realmuto only gets him for two years anyway. Unless they take a shot on someone like Austin Hedges, this isn't an issue that goes away.

Anonymous said...

Is ssln a parody account? That paean to Toughness and Grit feels like it could have been written by Bill Plaschke or some other barely literate dinosaur sportswriter.

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