Washington Nationals: Catcher Chatter Continues, Pudge Rodriguez Or Jesus Flores?

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: Wilson Ramos #3 of the Washington Nationals rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the second inning against the New York Mets at Nationals Park on April 26, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

After starting for the second of back-to-back games last night for just the second time this season, and going 3 for 4 with two HR's and an RBI single to leave him with a .378/.440/.578 slash line in 14 games and 50 plate apperances, Nats' backstop Wilson Ramos has made it abundantly clear (if it wasn't during the winter, Spring Training, the first few weeks of the season, etc.) that he's ready to assume the bulk of the duty behind the plate for the Washington Nationals. What the Nats will do with the two players behind Ramos on the depth chart is still a topic of conversation around the internets, however... 

FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote last week, in a section an article entitled, "Notes: Time is right to trade Reyes", which was subtitled, "Marquis on Move?", that the, "The Nationals seem almost certain to trade catcher Ivan Rodriguez before the July 31 non-waiver deadline," because the 23-year-old former Twins' top prospect, "Wilson Ramos is coming on that strong." Should the Nationals trade Rodriguez, Jesus Flores would have to be healthy enough to assume at least a backup role with the big club. Scouts who have looked at recently, however, have concluded that the 26-year-old catcher, who missed almost two years while recovering from shoulder issues, isn't yet back to full-strength. 

ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote yesterday, in the "Ready to Rumble" section of an article entitled, "Potential impact of expanding playoffs", that with so many teams out there looking for help behind the plate, "...the return of Jesus Flores -- and the Nationals' organization-wide catching depth -- has other clubs zeroing in on Washington's system." The problem, as Mr. Stark writes, is that teams who've looked at Flores, "...are finding is that, after missing nearly all of the last two seasons after labrum surgery, Flores just isn't ready,":

"'I think he's movable eventually, but it's going to take a while," said one scout. "He's just lost so much time. I liked him a lot before he got hurt. And if he gets his arm strength back, he's movable. But he's not there yet. It might take the whole year. But even if he does, he'll be 27, so he's still movable, considering the lack of catching in baseball.'"

The Houston Astros expressed interest in Flores during Spring Training when they lost presumptive starter Jason Castro for the season, but as MLB.com's Bill Ladson reported at the time, Houston, "...lost interest because they believe he still has a weak shoulder. Flores missed almost two years of action because of a shoulder ailment." Flores himself admitted as much when he spoke to Federal Baseball a week back: 

Jesus Flores: "The strength on my arm is going to take a while, that's what the doctors say, it's just the only thing that I can tell, that I'm still working on, but it's still good for throwing runners out, and everything else is better than before."

Will Flores recover in time to allow the Nationals to trade Rodriguez before the July Trade deadline? Assuming Pudge accepts an increasingly diminished role as the Nats transition to playing Wilson Ramos full-time, should the Nationals hold on to Pudge Rodriguez as long as he's capable of playing and mentoring their young catchers? Derek Norris is still a year or two away by most estimations. If the Nats did trade Rodriguez, and Flores wasn't ready or able to perform behind the plate, will they be creating a hole at a postition that's a perceived spot of depth in their organization? Flores or Pudge? Is Flores too valuable an asset, and too strong a catcher to be a backup? Who's going to play behind Wilson Ramos going forward?

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