Washington Nationals: Catcher Chatter? Pudge, Flores Trade Bait?

Former Minnesota Twins' backstop prospect Wilson Ramos' name came up in trade talks earlier this winter in a Washington Post article by Adam Kilgore entitled, "Nationals 'aggressively pursuing' trade for Zack Greinke and Matt Garza; but can they make it happen?", in which Mr. Kilgore quoted a "major league source" who told 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.'" A few weeks back, in MLB.com's Bill Ladson's, "Inbox: How's Opening Day lineup shaping up?", Mr. Ladson responded to a question about the Nats' Opening Day roster by saying that he,  "...would not be surprised if [Pudge] Rodriguez was traded before Opening Day in order to make room for Ramos and Jesus Flores," since he believed, "Ramos and Flores belong in the big leagues in 2011, with Ramos as the starter." In the latest edition of MLB.com's Mr. Ladson's "Inbox: Will offseason moves help Nats in '11?", the Nats beat reporter for Major League Baseball says that he's told, " Flores' right shoulder is 100 percent", which means he'll be in Spring Training battling for a spot, "but it would not come as a surprise," Mr. Ladson continued, "...if the Nationals use Flores as a trade chip during Spring Training."

In an interview on Sirius/XM's MLB Network Radio Hot Stove show this weekend with Jim Bowden and Jeff Rickard, Mr. Ladson elaborated on his thinking about the Nats' backstop backup, telling the hosts, "Right now, I think Wilson Ramos is going to be the guy behind the plate, and I've said this many times, I don't see Pudge getting career hit 3,000 in a Nationals uniform, no way. So, I think you're going to see behind the plate, Ramos and Jesus Flores when it's all said and done." 

Pudge Rodriguez is under contract for one more year with the Nationals, and his $3M dollar price tag might be prohibitive when it comes to trading the future Hall of Fame catcher, but as the season goes on, and the price comes down, it would seem more likely the Nationals might be able to deal him away if Jesus Flores can in fact remain healthy. Trading Flores before he's proven that he can return to the major league level on a regular basis would be a serious risk considering Ramos is as yet unproven in the majors and Derek Norris, the Nats' top-rated catching prospect is considered by most to be about two years away from the making it to D.C. at this point. Flores' health likely has reduced any value he once had to the point that he probably wouldn 't bring much back in return at this point anyway, so what's a GM to do?

Let all three battle it out this Spring and let their play make the decision? Though Pudge Rodriguez has averaged 183 hits per 162 games played over the course of his career, which is coincidentally the exact number of hits he needs to reach the 3,000 hit plateau, he's several years removed from that sort of production, and though he's still a skilled defender behind the plate, Wilson Ramos' arm is superior at this point (Pudge threw out just 34% of base stealers last season to Ramos' 50% CS% between the Twins' and Nats' systems last season.) All signs point to Pudge being on the way out, but the Nats have $3M invested in the 39-year-old veteran and they've spoken often of the importance of his veteran leadership on the field, in the dugout and in the clubhouse...

Who starts the 2011 season on the Nats' 25-Man Roster? Pudge and Ramos? Ramos and Flores? Pudge and Flores? Flores does, after all, have 177 games of major league experience on Ramos in spite of the fact that he hasn't played regularly since 2008...More than likely it will be Pudge and Ramos to start the season with Flores at Triple-A Syracuse, but Flores has sent veterans packing before...can The Jesus make a Future Hall of Famer expendable?

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