According to multiple reports this morning the Washington Nationals have agreed to a two-year deal with free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki, bringing the 35-year-old backstop back after he played in D.C. in 2012-13 between stints with the Oakland A’s. Suzuki played the 2014-16 seasons in Minnesota, then spent the past two years in Atlanta, putting up a .276/.341/.485 line with 37 doubles, 31 home runs, and 100 RBIs in 186 games and 697 plate appearances for the Nationals’ NL East rivals in 2017-18.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked late this season about the need to find a No. 1 catcher with Matt Wieters moving on via free agency after two years in the nation’s capital.
Breaking: Kurt Suzuki has agreed to a two-year deal with the Nationals.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) November 19, 2018
“A frontline catcher is a guy that we should target and go after,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, “... because it’s a huge position defensively, first of all, it’s a guy who controls a game, and I think you saw when Wieters went down, the way the pitchers threw to the catchers was as important as any type of offense you’re getting from the catcher’s position.”
With Wieters on the Disabled List for a long stretch this past season, the Nationals relied on young catchers Pedro Severino (who struggled and was eventually optioned out to Triple-A Syracuse when Wieters came off the DL) and Spencer Kieboom, who earned the backup role and impressed his manager and the General Manager, though Rizzo said he felt it would still be an area of need.
“To me the best catchers in the game handle the pitching staff,” he explained to the Junkies, “they’re pseudo-pitching coaches on the field, they’re guys that call a game, prepare for the game, and then offense is kind of the cherry on top of the sundae, so it’s a position of need, it’s a position that we’re going to have to target and go after next year, and I think it’s something that’s going to really help the ballclub if we land one of those guys.”
Nats agree to deal with Kurt Suzuki— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 19, 2018
Suzuki, who signed a 1-year/$1.5M free agent deal with the Braves in January, 2017, inked a 1-year/$3.5M extension to return to Atlanta this past season.
MLBTraderumors.com’s predictions had him getting a 2-year/$8M deal in free agency this winter, noting that in the last two years, “... Suzuki’s 116 wRC+ is second only to Buster Posey and J.T. Realmuto,” and adding that he’s, “... a bat-first option at catcher — one who can play as many as 100 games if necessary,” but has struggled recently in terms of his pitch framing and limiting the running game.
Rizzo told reporters earlier this month, including Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes, that the Nationals were still, “looking for a front-line catcher,” who, “... could play 120 games or so and produce offensively,” adding that it was a position where depth is important.
“If you have one all-star catcher, I think you’re pretty set there. But catcher is a rough position. You’re a foul tip away from needing another guy,” Rizzo said. “So if you get yourself what we’d call a front-line catcher, then I think you can go with one of your young guys [as a second catcher].”
Will the Nationals risk Suzuki getting injured, leaving them to go with Severino, Kieboom, or maybe top backstop prospect Raudy Read for an extended period?
Or do you think they might still add to the catching depth in the organization?
One thing we do know: With bullpen additions like Kyle Barraclough and Trevor Rosenthal and now Kurt Suzuki (pending a physical) acquired already this winter, Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office are moving quickly to fill their obvious needs.