Between Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, the duo started 220 of 222 games for Washington’s Nationals over the past two seasons, but with Suzuki now a free agent, and Gomes under contract for 2021, the 2019 World Series champs have been rumored to be looking to do something this offseason to bolster their catching corps.
James McCann just signed with the New York Mets, agreeing on a 4-year/$40M deal. J.T. Realmuto is the top catcher on the free agent market. There other options out there, like Suzuki if they want to take a chance on the 37-year-old backstop, but how the Nationals want to address their catching situations is a big factor in where they turn.
Both Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez and GM Mike Rizzo talked about how they plan to address their catching this winter when they spoke to reporters this afternoon.
Asked if he planned to use Gomes, who’s in the second year of a 2-year/$10M deal he got after helping the Nationals win it all in 2019, as an everyday catcher, which would mean a backup is what they will be targeting, or if they plan to have two catchers share duties as they have over the last two seasons, Martinez said that Gomes might get the bulk of the starts.
“I’ve talked to Yan at the end of the season, not knowing what’s going to happen with [Kurt] Suzuki, but I told him, I said, ‘You need to prepare to catch 100-110 games.’ That’s what I see for him,” Martinez said.
Gomes has played 100+ games before (with 111 games behind the plate as recently as 2018, and 103 starts with Cleveland in 2017), but he did, as noted, shared duties with Suzuki in ‘19 and ‘20. Is he ready for No. 1 catcher-type work again in 2021?
“He’s been working diligently on getting stronger, getting better. He wants to do it, he feels like he can do it. And he’s been good,” Martinez said.
“Obviously, we’re going to go out there and try to find another backup catcher. We have a couple young guys that are going to come to camp, you can never have enough catchers.
“It’s a tough position. But I really do feel like Yan can go out there every day and handle our pitching staff and play really well.”
“I think Yan’s capable of it,” Rizzo added in his own Zoom call with reporters today. “He’s done it on championship-caliber clubs in Cleveland and with us. It’s such a demanding, physically taxing position that we’d certainly like to take a little bit of burden off of him.
“But I think he’s capable of playing 90-100 games, at least, but we’re certainly going to have to get him a complement over there.
“It could come from our minor league system, it could come from a trade, or it could come from free agents, but we’ve got a good piece there with Gomes-y.”
Gomes is coming off a a .284/.319/.468 season in which he hit six doubles and four homers in 30 games and 119 plate appearances in a 0.2 fWAR, 60-game season in 2020.
The 33-year-old backstop didn’t throw runners out with the same efficiency he had in 2019, (18% CS%; down from 31%), but that wasn’t all on him. His fielding percentage (.992) was in line with previous seasons (.993 career average), though his DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) were down from +4 DRS in 2018 and +5 in his first season with the Nationals in 2019 to -3 in 2020’s truncated campaign.
Rizzo said he’s confident that Gomes can provide the club what it needs behind the plate.
“He’s a championship catcher. He’s part of a championship-caliber battery, and the pitchers love throwing to him,” the GM and President of Baseball Ops said.
“He’s a preparer, he’s a warrior and he’s a workhorse, but it’s such a demanding position, you’re a foul tip away from having to really, really scramble back there, so we’re going to keep all our options open there, but again, we like some of our young players as far as taking over that backup role in the future, but we certainly would like to get a partner to go along with Yan.”
Will that partner be Realmuto? Rizzo has expressed interest in the catcher in the past, and the Nationals have been mentioned in rumors about the catcher this winter? So? Have the Nats talked to Realmuto or his representatives?
“We talked to his representation on several different topics,” Rizzo said.
“He’s also [Ryan Zimmerman’s] agent, and many other clients, so we’ve had conversations with his representation.”
Asked, however, if he would characterize the Nationals as being in the mix for Realmuto, Rizzo declined to elaborate.
“I’m not going to kind of elaborate on specific free agents and what are levels are,” Rizzo said.
If they don’t find what they want on the free agent market, or via trade, do the Nationals have any in-house options who could step in and back up Gomes or share duties?
“We like our young group of guys,” Rizzo said.
“We’ve got guys that we think are some defensive-oriented guys that need the bat to come a little bit. We’ve got some guys that have an opportunity to be an offensive catcher.
“Our catching prospects are young, they’re in the lower levels of our system, right now.
“Tres Barrera is coming back, he’s got that defensive background, and Raudy Read who we have on a minor league contract here is also a possibility. He’s a guy that has a big arm, big power guy behind the plate. We think that we’re fairly deep at catcher, especially at the lower level, prospect-wise, and we’ve got some major league ability guys that could be backups in the big leagues, but neither one of those are going to curtail from looking to get a partner with Yan to make that position as good as it’s been the last couple of seasons.”