Washington Nationals: Backstop Battle - Pudge Rodriguez, Wilson Ramos And Jesus Flores.

The original plan was for then-38-year-old future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez to play about 90 games in 2010, working with Jesus Flores, sharing the catching duties and mentoring the 24-year-old Venezualan-born backstop, who was recovering from shoulder surgery (torn right labrum) but was expected to be ready for Spring Training at the time Pudge signed last winter. Flores' rehab took a bit longer than expected. On September 3, 2010 when Flores announced in an article by MLB.com's Bill Ladson entitled, "Flores done for 2010, will play in Instructional League", that he was going to miss the entire 2010 season after having played only 29 games in 2009 before the initial shoulder injury he suffered started Flores' perpetual DL stint, Rodriguez had already played 96 of the 111 games he'd end up playing last season, platooning with Wil Nieves, (who played 59 games as Pudge's backup, after playing 72 in 2009, and hit .203 with a .244 OBP, .310 SLG, 8 doubles, 3 HR's and 16 RBI's), and splitting time with Wilson Ramos after his late season call-up...

Pudge started strong with a .413/.449/.524 line in 18 games and 63 at bats in March/April, but followed that with a .233/.242/.350 May, a .250/.284/.297 June, an abysmal .176/.195/.230 July, a "bounceback" .277/.286/.313 August and a .259/.317/.407 September/October which left the veteran of 20 MLB seasons with a .266/.294/.347 slash line, 18 doubles, 4 HR's, 49 RBI's and the second-highest GDP total of his career with 25, six shy of his league-leading 31 DP grounders in 1999. Pudge's 2010 totals are actually a slight improvement over what he did in 2009, but far off the .298/.334/.466 career line he's averaged every 162 games since his MLB debut in 1991. Defensively in 2010, Pudge made just 4 errors behind the plate, with a .995 fld% and a 34% (22 of 64) CS%.

With Flores out for the second-straight season, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo decided to acquire a catcher, making a Non-Waiver trade deadline deal with Minnesota that sent Nats' closer Matt Capps to the Twins for then-22-year-old highly-regarded catching prospect Wilson Ramos, who Mr. Rizzo referred to during an appearance on the MLB Network last July as a, "major-league-ready," backstop that the Nationals, "...feel is an everyday catcher in the big leagues." Ramos was the Twins' second-best prospect overall heading into the 2010 season, at least according to Baseball America's John Manuel who also labeled the receiver the Best Power Hitter and Defensive Catcher in Minnesota's organization.

After struggling at Triple-A Rochester with the Twins (offensively at least, he had a .988 fld%, 5 errors and had thrown out 50% of those who tried to run on him when he was behind the plate), posting a .241/.280/.345 slash line in 71 games and 278 at bats, a rejuvenated Ramos turned things around in 20 games with the Nats' Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, with 25 hits, 3 doubles, a triple and 3 HR's in 79 at bats and 5 of 10 runners caught stealing, earning a call-up to Washington in September during which he split time fairly evenly with Pudge Rodriguez.

Pudge surprised some at his introductory press conference last winter when he declared that he believed he was, "...ready to play every day," though many believed he was there to share time with and help develop Jesus Flores. Washington Post writer Chico Harlan reported in a Nationals Journal article entitled, "Your new (starting?) catcher, Pudge Rodriguez", that Rodriguez had explained when asked about playing time that he'd discussed it with the Nats and in his opinion he was, "...a player that can still play every day and I will play every day and basically do my best for the club." The Nats' GM wasn't surprised, asking reporters when informed of the comments, "'Would you expect anything different?'"

"The best problem I could have all season is,'" Mr. Rizzo told reporters, was to have to ask, "'Who of these two hot catchers are we going to play on an everyday basis?'" How about three? Though Nieves is gone, (and in Milwaukee now), heading into the 2011 campaign, Pudge Rodriguez is under contract for one more year, Wilson Ramos, as the Nationals' general manager explained in an MLB Network Radio interview earlier this winter, is, "..going to get a lot of time catching this year," and Jesus Flores is back and playing, coming off a 25-game stint in the Venezuelan Winter League where he hit .322 (28 of 87) with 6 doubles, 2 HR's, 16 RBI's, a .365 OBP and a .460 SLG. (ed. note - "Ramos put together a .322/.390/.567 VWL campaign, collecting 17 doubles, 9 HR's and 36 RBI's in 47 games and 180 at bats.")

In an interview earlier this winter after the Nats unveiled their redesigned jerseys and caps, Mr. Rizzo was asked what Washington would do with Flores in particular since he seemed to be on the outside looking in on Pudge and Ramos? Rizzo's response was that Flores would, "'...get some at bats under his belt'" in the Venezuelan Winter League and then "'...try to win a job as a catcher on the Nationals in 2011."

Rizzo: "We do have some depth at that position, it's going to be great competition between Wilson and Jesus Flores and couple that with a veteran Pudge Rodriguez and a youngster like Derek Norris behind them, I think we've got a good quality stable of young, good, impact-type catchers."

Ramos' name was actually mentioned in trade talks in a December 13, 2010 Washington Post article by Adam Kilgore entitled, "Nationals 'aggressively pursuing' trade for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza; but can they make it happen?", with a "major league source" telling the WaPost writer that with a, "healthy Jesus Flores, Ivan Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos on their 40-man roster and top prospect Derek Norris likely two years away from the majors," if the Nats were, "...convinced Flores is healthy, the source said, 'I think they'd move Ramos.'" MLB.com's Bill Ladson, in the most recent edition of his, "Inbox: How's Opening Day lineup shaping up?", wrote that he, "...would not be surprised if [Pudge] Rodriguez was traded before Opening Day in order to make room for Ramos and Jesus Flores," explaining that, "Ramos and Flores belong in the big leagues in 2011, with Ramos as the starter."

Any such move would have to come during Spring Training, you'd think, when the Nats have further proof that Flores is capable of returning to the majors on a full time basis. With the top pitchers available via trade already dealt, a deal involving Wilson Ramos seems unlikely. Flores starting the season in Syracuse has been discussed as well. (ed. note- "If only there were too many good starters for the rotation instead of a backstop backup...") Which two catchers will start the season in D.C.?

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