Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Provided Wilson Ramos is able to return from a torn ACL in his right knee, the Washington Nationals might have a tough decision when it comes to Jesus Flores since it will likely be Ramos and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate in D.C. in 2013.
After a strong 2008 season in which he established himself as the no.1 catcher in Washington's organization, a then-24-year-old Jesus Flores was 26 games and 103 plate appearances into the '09 campaign when D-Backs' outfielder Chris Young fouled a pitch from Nats' right-hander Garrett Mock back and off the Nationals' backstop's shoulder. Though he played through the pain for two innings, the one-time NY Mets' prospect selected in the '06 Rule 5 Draft, left the game and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right shoulder.
Flores returned to take three at bats at the end of that year, but once again felt pain in his shoulder, and it was determined then that he'd suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder while rehabbing. The injury and subsequent surgery was originally expected to cost the catcher somewhere from 3-6 months on the sidelines. Flores finished the 2009 season with a .301/.371/.505 line, three doubles, two triples and four home runs.
Flores would not play for the Nats in 2010. When he returned to the majors in 2011 he wasn't the hitter he had been before the injury. In 30 games and 91 plate appearances in the majors, in a season spent between Triple-A Syracuse and D.C. as Nats' catcher Pudge Rodriguez struggled with injuries, Flores had a .209/.253/.314 line with six doubles and a home run for the Nationals.
As Flores and Rodriguez split time in the backup role, Wilson Ramos, acquired in a July 2010 trade with the Twins that brought the top catching prospect in Minnesota's organization for the previous three seasons to Washington, established himself as the no.1 catcher in the nation's capital.
In his first full season in the majors, the 23-year-old catcher put up a .265/.354/.398 line with 22 doubles and 15 home runs in 113 games and 435 plate appearances, firmly establishing himself as the no.1 catcher in the Nationals' organization. 25 games and 96 PAs into his 2012 campaign, Wilson Ramos chased a passed ball behind the plate when a Jordan Zimmermann pitch got by him and as he planted his right foot to turn and throw and had his knee buckle on him. Ramos went down in obvious, serious pain.
That night Davey Johnson admitted to reporters that the news they were likely to get soon was not going to be good. "I don't know how bad it is," Johnson told reporters after the game when asked about Ramos, "He's going for an MRI, but I have a bad feeling he tore something in there and his down time will be a while. We'll just keep our fingers crossed, but right now it's not good at all."
The damage to Ramos' knee was so severe it required two surgeries, one after the swelling from the initial procedure had healed. With Ramos out for the year and Jesus Flores and a string of backup catchers underperforming, the Nationals made a deal for a catcher after the 2012 Trade Deadline.
Washington acquired Kurt Suzuki from the Oakland A's. D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told CSNWashington.com's Mark Zuckerman after the trade, that the appeal in bringing Suzuki into the fold was that he was a relatively young and controllable catcher who was signed through 2013 with an option for 2014 and could help the organization long-term especially with Ramos out for an indeterminate amount of time.
"'He's not a rental,'" Rizzo told the CSNWashington reporter, "'He's going to be here for more than this season. He's a guy who can really take that rotation together and get it going better than it already has.'"
Suzuki, who had a .218/.250/.286 line with Oakland this season, put up a .267/.321/.404 line with Washington, finishing the season with a .301/.355/.482 September in which he hit three doubles and four home runs, doubling his HR production from the previous five months in a 26 game stretch as he helped the Nationals reach the post season for the first time since baseball returned to D.C. in 2005. Suzuki's contract pays him $6.45M next season. Ramos made $491,250 in 2012 and isn't arbitation-eligible until 2014. Flores made $815,000 in '12 and is arbitration-eligible this winter.
Flores was reportedly "shocked" when he learned the Nationals had acquired Suzuki in August, with reporters noting at the time that it raised questions about his future with the organization. Provided that Ramos returns to full-strength and resumes his position as the Nats' no.1 catcher or at least 1A along with Suzuki what lies ahead for Jesus Flores is even less clear.