Both Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez and Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo talked earlier this winter about Yan Gomes assuming the role of a No. 1 catcher in D.C., with Kurt Suzuki, (a free agent at that point before signing on with the LA Angels), gone after the two shared catching duties in the nation’s capital almost exclusively in 2019-2020.
“I’ve talked to Yan at the end of the season, not knowing what’s going to happen with Suzuki, but I told him, I said, ‘You need to prepare to catch 100-110 games.’ That’s what I see for him,” Martinez told reporters in mid-December.
“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.
“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, he’s done it on championship-caliber clubs in Cleveland and with us,” Rizzo added in his own Zoom call this past December.
“It’s such a demanding, physically taxing position that we’re certainly likely to take a little bit of burden off of him,” the GM added, “... 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.”
According to a report by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tonight, that complementary piece is Alex Avila, the 33-year-old, 12-year veteran who became a free agent after a 2020 season in Minnesota in which the backstop put up a .184/.355/.286 line, two doubles, and a home run in 23 games and 62 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.2 fWAR.
Free-agent catcher Alex Avila in agreement with Nationals on one-year contract, pending physical, sources tell @TheAthletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 28, 2021
In 63 games and 201 PAs in 2019, the catcher put up a .207/.353/.421 line with eight doubles and nine home runs in a 1.3 fWAR season.
Avila is reportedly signing a one-year deal with the Nationals, giving them a capable backup for Gomes with a .995 career fielding percentage, 30% caught stealing percentage, and + 6 and +7 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) seasons in 2018 and 2019, respectively, (before a 0 DRS campaign in 2020).
He also has some history with a few of the Nationals’ pitchers:
Notable about Alex Avila, who turns 34 tomorrow: He caught Max Scherzer extensively in Detroit (107 times) and briefly caught Jon Lester in Chicago (twice) and Patrick Corbin in Arizona (14 times).— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) January 28, 2021
The plan is clearly to lean on Gomes in 2021, after he started his second campaign with the Nationals 0 for 13 in his first four games in 2020, but hit in 10-straight between August 10th and 30th, going 16 for 41 (.390/.419/.683) in that stretch.
After the first four games of the season, Gomes put up a .323/.346/.531 line the rest of the way in a disappointing follow-up for the Nationals following their World Series win in 2019, but a solid season overall for the 32-year-old receiver, who hit six doubles and four homers in 30 total games and 119 PAs in the 60-game season.
“He’s a championship catcher,” Rizzo said of Gomes in December.
“He’s part of a championship-caliber battery, and the pitchers love throwing to him. 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.”