In assessing the production the Washington Nationals got from their catchers in 2018, and acknowledging that Matt Wieters wasn’t likely to return after two seasons in D.C., GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in late September upgrading the catching corps would be a priority this winter.
“I think those are decisions that we’re going to have to make,” Rizzo said. “Wieters is a free agent. We’ve got our two young kids in [Pedro] Severino and [Spencer] Kieboom, who — Kieboom has had a nice year as a backup catcher for us this year, but I agree that a frontline catcher is a guy that we should target and go after, 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.”
“It’s a position of need,” he added, “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.”
Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office added two of those guys, actually, signing Kurt Suzuki to a 2-year/$10M deal and acquiring Yan Gomes in a 3-for-1 trade with Cleveland.
Washington’s catchers posted a combined .209/.299/.312 line in 2018, finishing ranked 12th/11th/15th among National League teams, with a combined 12 home runs (15th), 64 wRC+ (14th), and 0.5 fWAR (12th) from the four catchers they used last season (Wieters, Kieboom, Severino, and Miguel Montero).
Suzuki, 35, put up a .271/.332/.444 line, 12 home runs and 108 wRC+, finishing the season at 2.0 fWAR in 2018, and Gomes, 31, posted a .266/.313/.449 line, 16 home runs and 101 wRC+ in a 2.2 fWAR campaign.
So was targeting the two catchers the plan all along for Rizzo this offseason?
“We had a lot of different options,” Rizzo said. “We could have went for the big free agent everyday catcher, or get a trade for a younger, more 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.”
“I think it makes us better,” manager Davey Martinez said of the additions. “You get an All-Star catcher, and complemented by Suzuki.”
“They’re both going to split time, 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,” Martinez continued. “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.”
As for Severino and Kieboom, who suddenly find themselves back down on the depth chart in the organization, and Raudy Read, who’s the fifth catcher currently on the 40-Man roster?
Read, 25, served an 80-game PED suspension, which set his development back, and put up a .279/.319/.401, 11 doubles, and three home runs in 53 games between Double and Triple-A once he returned.
“The PED suspension really set him back this year,” Rizzo told the Junkies in September.
“He lost 80 games because of it, we put him in Double-A this year, he started swinging the bat well towards the latter part of the season, but he was still in Spring Training mode in the third month of the season, so it set him back a lot. He’s a real offensive-type of profile as a catcher, his defense is getting better. Bob Boone and those guys are working hard with him in the minor leagues to get his game-calling, his footwork behind the plate and his blocking much, much better, and we think that he’s a guy for us in the future, but we don’t think the future as an everyday guy is next year.”
Severino, who is out of options, and would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors, and Kieboom, were both asked earlier this month for their reactions when they learned of the moves the Nationals made in adding Suzuki and Gomes.
“It’s just not something I can control,” Severino said.
“There is a boss who takes care of those things. All I can do is focus on my work. This is a business and those things kind of happen. There are 29 other teams and you’ll see things like this happen, so I just worry about me.”
“I don’t pay attention to what goes on,” Kieboom told reporters.
“It’s out of my control. I spoke earlier to the radio guys, and I used the word ‘opportunities,’ because last year I got an opportunity and I tried to make the most of it, thought I made the most of it. I doesn’t change the fact of anything.
“I don’t think it discredits anything defensively that we did. I picked it at the end swinging the bat.
“But now I have an opportunity to work with these two guys and learn from an All-Star catcher. They’re both great catchers, and I’ve worked out with Tyler Flowers in the past and spoke to him about Suzuki and he said he’s just a great guy, he’s exactly what you think he would be, so I’m excited to meet the both of them and use that opportunity to better myself as well.”
With Suzuki and Gomes both durable catchers, will Kieboom get another opportunity in 2019?
Will Severino, considered the catcher of the future in D.C. before he struggled last season, end up in another organization if he doesn’t clear waivers?
Suzuki’s signed for two years, and Gomes is potentially under control through 2021 (with a $9M club option for 2020 and an $11M club option for 2021). Barring any injuries or future moves or setbacks, the Nationals figured out their catching situation for the next couple of years, and they did it early this winter.