Suzuki played in 122 games with the Nats from 2012-2013. The catcher said the main reason he is returning is the enthusiasm shown by general manager Mike Rizzo to get the 35-year-old backstop back to Washington.
“Speaking to my agent and speaking to Riz, he was really aggressive from the beginning of free agency, and I kind of took to that,” Suzuki said via conference call Tuesday. “He told my agent from Day One I’m their guy, whether I catch 120 games or 90 games or whatever they want me to do. I told them, ‘I’ll be ready to do whatever you want.’ He said I’m going to play, obviously, but I said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ So whether that’s 80, 90, 120, it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m just trying to help the team win and see how it goes.”
After leaving the Nats in 2013, Suzuki went back to Oakland, where he started his career, then to Minnesota and on to Atlanta.
Suzuki, a 2014 All-Star with the Twins, blossomed at the plate the last two seasons with the Braves, hitting .276 and reaching an .825 OPS, both career highs. The Braves won the National League East in 2018 with Suzuki as their catcher.
Facing the Nationals as a divisional opponent 38 times these last two seasons, he respected the challenge of going against his former team. He said the Nats have the talent level to compete for the NL East title and make the postseason, as they did during his previous stint in Washington.
“2012 was obviously a special year,” Suzuki said. “That was a very talented team. Obviously, things didn’t go how we had planned (in the playoffs). I think the team that we have now is not much different, talent-wise. I know a few of the guys that I played with in 2012 are still there in Stras, Rendon, Zim, those guys.
“Over on the other side the last couple of years, (the Nats) were always a feared team. You just see the talent that they have with the guys that they acquire, guys that come up through the minor leagues, their starting rotation, the bullpen. We’ve got everything that it takes to win a World Series. It’s just a matter of going out there and playing on the field.”
Suzuki is thrilled to continue to play for teams that have the opportunity each season to go all the way. Even though the Braves did offer him a contract to stay, which he didn’t want to go into detail about, he opted to go back to the Nats on a two-year deal.
“Everything looks good on paper,” he said of the Nationals’ outlook for 2019. “Everything is optimistic on paper, but you got to go between the lines and perform. Whatever team does that is going to win. That being said, I love our chances. For this year, we’ve got all the talent, all the tools to go out there and win. Just got to go out there and play.”
Suzuki said he uses nutrition and proper workouts to maintain his body as he navigates his mid-30s, crediting his wife for putting in place a plan to stay healthy. He said he doesn’t fear a falloff in his play at 35. And he recognized that he had value on the market when teams with solid playoff chances came calling.
“Whether teams devalue a player or not, I think when a contender every single year comes up and offers you a contract that they’ve offered me, it shows that’s your real value,” Suzuki said. “They are a team that plays for the World Series every single year. That’s their goal. As a player, you really appreciate that. Like I told Riz today, I appreciated him believing in me. I’m going to go out there and do my best to help the team win.”
Suzuki said he could play 120 games if asked to do so. But will he take a backup role if Rizzo continues shopping for a starting catcher? Rizzo convinced Suzuki that he was important, no matter the role.
“Whether I’m a guy that’s going to catch 50 games or I’m a guy that’s going to catch 120 games, he made it clear he’s going to bring me in to help the team win,” Suzuki said. “That’s the bottom line. ... Whatever the capacity it is, I’m willing to do. I haven’t played in a World Series before. That’s my goal. Whatever he asks me to do, I’m going to do.”