Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo talked catching with reporters at the recently-completed Winter Meetings in the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Wilson Ramos, 26, returned from the second hamstring injury he dealt with in 2013 to put together an impressive late-season run, which included 24 consecutive starts, but he played just 78 games total last season in his fourth major league campaign, finishing the year with a .272/.307/.470 line, nine doubles and a career-high 16 home runs in 303 plate appearances, over which he was worth +1.8 fWAR.
Rizzo said last week he believed Ramos, who played 113 games in 2011 in his first full season in the majors, and played just 25 games in 2012 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, was ready to be an everyday catcher in the majors, telling reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, "'He can play regularly. I don’t know what the average everyday catcher caught … what, about a 125-128 games? I think he can take on that load. And if that’s the case, we feel good about what we’ve got as our backups.'"
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Solano put up a .214/.245/.279 line in 40 games and 148 PAs at Triple-A Syracuse in 2013, and a .146/.180/.188 line in 50 PAs in the majors. Leon posted a .177/.291/.252 line with 12 doubles and three home runs in 95 games and 361 PAs at Double-A Harrisburg last season after making his MLB debut in 2012 and putting up a .267/.389/.333 line in 12 games and 36 PAs with Washington.
When the NL East-leading Nationals decided they weren't comfortable with their catching in 2012 as they headed into the stretch run and toward their first postseason appearance, they made an early August deal with the Oakland A's. Rizzo said last week that would likely be the "plan of attack" in 2014.
"'Going into spring training right now, we’re comfortable with what we have,'" the Nats' GM told NatsInsider.com's Mr. Zuckerman. "'We’re always looking to upgrade. We did it two years ago when Wilson got hurt and we went and got a [Kurt] Suzuki.'" The Nationals sent then-23-year-old minor league catcher David Freitas to the Athletics to get Suzuki and this past August dealt Suzuki back to the A's for 22-year-old minor league outfielder Dakota Backus. If they can find a catcher like Suzuki when the need arises, does it make sense that the Nationals are comfortable dealing with an issue if one does come up rather than taking preemptive action?
Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was asked in his weekly chat with readers on Monday morning if he was comfortable with the Nationals going into the season with Ramos backed up by either Solano or Leon. "No, I am absolutely NOT comfortable with the Nats' catching situation," the WaPost reporter responded.
"They never mention it as a need," Boswell wrote, but citing the injuries Ramos has dealt with in previous years and the options available should he get injured next season, he added, "...it is a NEED. Not a luxury."
The WaPost columnist, noting that Suzuki's still available as a free agent, said there were options remaining should the team try to add a veteran catcher. "Just so they ARE aiming!," he said. "If you are a contender, you don't go into a major-opportunity season with a really good but MUCH-INJURED catcher and a bunch of rookies behind him."
Mr. Boswell's colleague, WaPost Nats beat writer Adam Kilgore, wrote on Monday that the Nationals continued to look for an available catcher. "With Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon as Wilson Ramos’s backups," he wrote, "they are still sifting through backup catcher options, even if that means bringing a veteran minor league free agent to camp as insurance."
The Nationals have impressed the baseball world with the moves they've made so far this winter to address the holes they saw on their roster. Will they bring in a backup catcher capable of playing every day should something happen to Ramos? Or will they go with what they have and react if necessary?
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