If you're a fringe major leaguer hoping to find employment for the 2014 season, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Teams are handing out minor league contracts with spring training invitations like stocking stuffers, and the Nationals made such a move today. Though it's relatively minor, it could pay significant dividends down the road.
Catcher Chris Snyder signed a minor league contract with the Nationals and will get the ubiquitous invitation to major league camp. If his name sounds familiar, it should. Snyder was in camp with the Nats last spring, and though he was granted his release to pursue an opportunity with a different club, he quickly made an impression on the team and its pitching staff as a solid game-caller who quickly adapted to an unfamiliar mound corps.
That's how Snyder has managed to carve out a 10-year major league career with the Diamondbacks, Pirates, Astros and Orioles. The days when he was an offensive contributor - he hasn't batted better than .237 since 2007 in Arizona - may have passed, but he's decent enough defensively to keep earning a paycheck. For his career, Snyder boasts a .998 fielding percentage, 50 passed balls in 690 games and has thrown out 29 percent of the runners attempting to steal against him.
Last year, the Nats brought him into camp on a minor league deal, but Snyder asked for and received his release on March 18 so he could sign with the Los Angeles Angels. The 32-year-old hit .342 in 21 games at Triple-A Salt Lake City, catching the eye of the Orioles, who acquired him in an April 8 trade.
Snyder split the rest of the season between Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore, getting into nine games with the Oriole and hitting .100 (2-for-20) with one RBI. Again, he's not here for his bat. The Orioles actually released and re-signed him in the middle of the season.
The Nationals have been searching for a veteran to back up Wilson Ramos, and Snyder certainly has more credibility as an insurance policy than Jhonatan Solano or Sandy Leon, two guys with little major league experience. But Snyder has been increasingly viewed as a depth guy in recent years, and that job description might not change with Washington. Snyder can make $1 million plus incentives if he breaks camp with the Nationals.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Nationals acquire someone else with a decent major league resume before pitchers and catchers report to Space Coast Stadium in mid-February. It wouldn't be surprising if they didn't, either.
So why is a backup catcher such a big deal? When you've assembled the kind of pitching staff the Nationals possess, it's important those hurlers are comfortable with their battery mates. Ramos, when healthy, has done a good job of working the scouting report on opposing hitters to his pitchers' strengths. Snyder, based on rave reviews from Nationals starters last spring, quickly bonded with his pitchers.
The key with Snyder is that he's been a regular catcher in the majors before, something neither Solano nor Leon can say. Snyder has caught as many as 112 games for the D-backs as recently as 2008 and 72 for the Astros in 2012. He's a career .224/.328/.382 hitter.
Note: The Nationals yesterday announced their 2014 minor league coaching staffs, and Brian Daubach was promoted from high Single-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg. You might want to check out this profile of Daubach by Geoff Morrow of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg.
Update: According to Matt Eddy of Baseball America, the Nationals have also signed minor league deals with shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, catcher Mitch Canham and first baseman Brock Peterson. Peterson's signing had been previously reported.
The 28-year-old Burriss is a product of Woodrow Wilson High School in the District, and hit .243 from 2008-2012 for the Giants. Last season, he played 108 games for the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville (managed by ex-Nats skipper Jim Riggleman) and batted .241 with a homer, 24 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.
Canham is a 29-year-old journeyman who last season batted .265 with two homers and 29 RBIs between Triple-A Omaha and Double-A Northwest Arkansas in the Royals system. He's previously played in the Padres, A's and Cardinals organizations.