The move came just less than two weeks after the Nats signed Kurt Suzuki to a 2-year/$10M free agent deal.
Rizzo talked to reporters this afternoon about resolving the catching issues on the roster with two moves early in the offseason after Matt Wieters struggled to stay on the field in 2017-18 and became a free agent this winter.
There were internal options with catchers Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom on the roster after Wieters left, but no clear No. 1 starter, so was the plan to sign two new backstops from the start?
“It’s kind of a fluid situation,” Rizzo explained. “We had a lot of different options. We could have went for the big free agent everyday catcher, or get a trade for a younger, more [of an] everyday-type of player, and we felt that the best bang for our buck was to go after both of these guys, and we identified them early in the offseason and really focused in on these two guys specifically and went after them.”
The Nationals sent outfield prospect Daniel Johnson, hard-throwing righty Jefry Rodriguez (who debuted in the big leagues in 2018), and a PTBNL to the Indians to acquire Gomes, a catcher that the front office in Washington was big on.
“Gomes is a terrific player, he’s always been an elite defender, our analytics love the framing and the defense and that type of thing,” Rizzo said.
“Our scouts really liked the performance last year. He’s handled some elite staffs, he’s handled Cy Young award winners, he’s played on the biggest stage that you can play on and played well. He’s a frontline, durable catcher at an age that we liked, with control that we always like.
“We brought him in to tandem with Kurt [Suzuki] and I talked to them yesterday, they’re both on board to do whatever it takes to win, and after it was announced, I called Kurt in California, and explained to him where we’re at and he’s totally on board and Gomes was really excited about coming over.”
Gomes, who called in to talk to reporters in Nationals Park, said he spoke to the Nationals briefly last night, but hadn’t really discussed how he and Suzuki will be used.
“We didn’t get into any specifics of anything, to be honest with you,” Gomes said.
“It was really to say, ‘Welcome to the organization.’ They’re excited to have me. And that’s kind of the conversation we had. I don’t think it was the time yet to talk about that kind of stuff, but hey, I’m ready to do whatever it is to help a team win, and help the Nationals take the next step and go be World Series contenders, and whatever it is I’m ready for it, no matter where or when my name gets called.”
Neither Rizzo or Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez were ready to discuss how the two catchers would split responsibilities either.
“That would be a Davey thing,” Rizzo said, “but I think that they both should get ample time playing. We could bounce Kurt [and have] him play a little first base if he has to, but they both — Gomes is a very durable catcher, he’s played every day on a championship-caliber club, and Kurt is — they had a great platoon last year in Atlanta, so I think they’re both comfortable doing either or both ways.”
“They’re both going to split time,” Martinez explained, “but we’ll get to Spring Training, and I’ll have conversations with them, but they’re both going to play a lot.
“They both bring a lot. Kurt is a good hitting catcher. Yan had a really good year last year as a catcher, but he’s a really good defensive catcher too, so I’m looking forward to just talking to them, but I think it’s going to make our pitching staff a lot better, because those two guys have been around baseball a while and caught some really good pitchers, so I’m itching to talk to them and pick their brain about how they foresee handling our pitching staff.”
Gomes said the idea of working with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and the rest of the pitchers in the Nationals’ rotation was the first thing he thought about when he learned he was coming to Washington.
“That was literally the first thing that I thought about,” Gomes said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to get to work with some unbelievable starting pitchers with the Indians and the Nationals’ starting pitchers are right there.
“You’ve definitely got two of the top guys in the league and it’s exciting. I got a text from Scherzer last night, and that to me felt like it spoke to the whole organization and the kind of place I’m going into. He seemed really excited, and I just told him I’m ready to get working. That’s the kind of personality that I have, I want to get right to it and get going.”
“I think it makes us better,” Martinez said when asked about the additions. “You get an All-Star catcher, and complemented by Suzuki.
“I look forward to talking to those guys, and I’m trying to reach out to Kurt already, and playing phone tag, and probably reach out to Yan today, but I know he’s excited to be here.”
Gomes, who was definitely excited, was asked about Rizzo’s scouting report on him and the importance he places on pitch framing, other aspects of his defensive game, and the work he’s done to improve behind the plate.
“In the offseason, my wife works with me. We get little golf balls and she throws them at me, and she helps me improve my receiving...”
That’s not altogether true.
“That is kind of true, but I was just trying to lighten up the mood here,” Gomes joked.
He is serious about improving behind the plate, however.
“I think it’s something that I do take a lot of pride in,” he said. “Presentation. Getting to know umpires. I think that’s part of our game, it’s part of the catching job, and I take a lot of pride in that. There are a lot of moments in the game where a strike call can mean a lot and I’m trying my best to get a strike call on every single pitch. But I also don’t try to sell it all in that one aspect.
“I want to be an all-around catcher, from receiving, throwing, and blocking, and every way.
“But yeah, I do take a lot of pride in my receiving, and I’ve been very fortunate enough to get to work with some really good catchers in the past.”
Gomes heard the rumors in the lead-up to last night’s trade, but he said he was actually really surprised that he ultimately ended up getting traded to the Nationals.
“I mean, really, the past couple weeks you start seeing your name and getting more and more on the trade rumors, you start kind of expecting it,” he said, “and I got a call yesterday around 2:30 or so from [President of Baseball Operations] Chris Antonetti with the Indians letting me know that a trade was in the works for me. It wasn’t done yet, but he said that it looked like it was going to be done, and he said it was the Nationals.
“To be honest, I got taken aback a little bit because it wasn’t one of the teams that on Twitter or whatever it was, it wasn’t one of the teams. It surprised us.
“But right away I started thinking, alright, this is a new family, a new team, let me think about them and they got me excited man, and got me really excited to join them.
“They’re one heck of a ballclub and I’m excited to be a part of them.”