Not many quality catchers available this winter

If there’s only one move the Nationals are 100 percent guaranteed to make this winter, it’s the acquisition of a catcher. You can argue they can get by with in-house options at other positions, but you can’t argue they can do it behind the plate.

The only catchers currently on the organization’s 40-man roster are Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino and Raudy Read. None is a viable No. 1 catcher in the big leagues to begin the 2019 season. (You could make a case none is really an ideal No. 2 catcher at this point, either, but let’s not go there today.)

Wieters-Walking-Nats-Gear-Sidebar.jpgThis isn’t a new problem for the Nationals. Ever since they lost Wilson Ramos to free agency after the 2016 season, they’ve been searching for a long-term catching solution. They initially hoped it would be Derek Norris, but he got squeezed off the roster before the end of spring training in 2017 and wound up getting suspended for a domestic violence accusation after signing with the Rays. The Nats gave Matt Wieters a two-year, $20 million contract, but the former Oriole never found his groove and could never stay 100 percent healthy. They hoped Severino would seize his opportunity this season after Wieters got hurt, but his stretch of expanded playing time was a disaster.

So here they are again, still searching for the answer to a longstanding question. Problem is, there simply aren’t that many quality catchers out there these days. If you’re counting on a major upgrade here, prepare yourself for the possibility of being disappointed. There are a couple of available big names, but they aren’t easily acquirable (either because of competition or asking price in a trade).

Here’s the list ...

J.T. REALMUTO
Opening day 2019 age: 29
2018 stats: 531 PA, .277 AVG, .340 OBP, .484 SLG, .825 OPS, 21 HR, 74 RBI, -7 DRS, 4.3 bWAR
Projected contract: Arbitration-eligible in 2019-20, free agent in 2021
Nats’ likely interest level: High. Yes, it’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite Marlins catcher. Again. The Nationals weren’t willing to meet the hefty asking price for him (i.e., Victor Robles) last winter or this summer, so it’s tough to imagine they’re suddenly going to meet that price now. But if by chance Miami lowers its demands - perhaps the fact Realmuto is only under control for two more seasons now might persuade them - general manager Mike Rizzo could maybe swoop in and finally get this thing done. If not, prepare for more never-ending speculation about a trade that has always looked better on paper than in reality.

YASMANI GRANDAL
Opening day 2019 age: 30
2018 stats: 518 PA, .241 AVG, .349 OBP, .466 SLG, .815 OPS, 24 HR, 68 RBI, +9 DRS, 3.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 3 years, $36 million
Nats’ likely interest level: High. This is the one legit frontline catcher on the free agent market this winter. Grandal didn’t hit for a high average this season, but he got on base at a nice clip, he hit for power and was good behind the plate - at least until the postseason, when he turned into a train wreck for the Dodgers. Could that October performance have depressed his market? Maybe, but the Nationals still figure to be quite interested in the best catcher on the market.

MART├ŹN MALDONADO
Opening day 2019 age: 32
2018 stats: 404 PA, .225 AVG, .276 OBP, .351 SLG, .627 OPS, 9 HR, 44 RBI, +3 DRS, -.5 bWAR
Projected contract: 3 years, $24 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. He doesn’t hit much, but he’s a Gold Glove winner who threw out a major league-best 49 percent of runners this season and works well with pitching staffs. Maldonado also has proven pretty durable, starting an average of 121 games behind the plate the last two seasons. And he’s never gone on the disabled list, despite making 498 career starts as a catcher. He may not wow you, but he’s a solid, under-the-radar player.

ROBINSON CHIRINOS
Opening day 2019 age: 34
2018 stats: 426 PA, .222 AVG, .338 OBP, .419 SLG, .757 OPS, 18 HR, 65 RBI, -11 DRS, 1.5 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $14 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low-to-moderate. Chirinos was a top-five catcher this season in homers and RBIs and made a career-high 96 starts. So why did the Rangers decline his modest $4.5 million option? Perhaps because he threw out only six of 59 baserunners, and because Texas’ pitching staff had a 5.11 ERA with him behind the plate. That’s a significant red flag.

WILSON RAMOS
Opening day 2019 age: 31
2018 stats: 416 PA, .306 AVG, .358 OBP, .487 SLG, .845 OPS, 15 HR, 70 RBI, -5 DRS, 2.7 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $10 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Look, we know the Nats love Ramos. And we know Nats fans really love Ramos. But if they were that interested in a reunion, they would’ve acquired him at the trade deadline instead of the Phillies for a player to be named. As nice as Ramos’ bat would be in the lineup, he’s a real liability behind the plate, not to mention a constant injury risk. He’s almost certainly headed to an American League team, which will happily take his production as a part-time catcher and part-time DH.

JONATHAN LUCROY
Opening day 2019 age: 32
2018 stats: 454 PA, .241 AVG, .291 OBP, .325 SLG, .617 OPS, 4 HR, 51 RBI, -11 DRS, -0.7 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $5 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. The Nationals were very interested in Lucroy a couple of years ago, so it stands to reason they still are interested in him. But it has to be noted that his numbers have dropped off considerably from his All-Star days in Milwaukee, not only at the plate but behind it as well. He was +24 in Defensive Runs Saved in 2014; he’s a combined -26 in DRS the last two years. But he’s going to be a lot more affordable this time around, so maybe it’s worth the risk.

BRIAN McCANN
Opening day 2019 age: 35
2018 stats: 216 PA, .212 AVG, .301 OBP, .339 SLG, .640 OPS, 7 HR, 23 RBI, +3 DRS, 1.0 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $7 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. Another big name from years past whose best days are behind him. McCann isn’t the guy from Atlanta anymore, but he was surprisingly effective behind the plate even at his age this season.

KURT SUZUKI
Opening day 2019 age: 35
2018 stats: 388 PA, .271 AVG, .332 OBP, .444 SLG, .776 OPS, 12 HR, 50 RBI, -7 DRS, 2.1 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $5 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate. Speaking of former Nationals, Suzuki was very well liked during his time here in 2012-13. He then proceeded to become a significant offensive force in Atlanta the last two seasons. His bat would be a welcome addition, though he’s not a strong defensive catcher. And he’s also not a real No. 1 guy. He’s best suited to share the job with someone else.

MATT WIETERS
Opening day 2019 age: 32
2018 stats: 271 PA, .238 AVG, .330 OBP, .374 SLG, .704 OPS, 8 HR, 30 RBI, -1 DRS, 0.6 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $4 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low-to-moderate. This is not to suggest Wieters was good for the Nationals the last two seasons. But he probably wasn’t as bad as often portrayed, at least this year. Once he came back from his hamstring injury, he actually was productive. He hit .273/.358/.430 with five homers and 21 RBIs in August and September. And we know the pitching staff likes working with him. So perhaps there’s a chance of a return. Not as the clear-cut No. 1. But perhaps as a part-timer who shares the job with another addition (such as Suzuki). For $10 million or so, you could end up with two veteran catchers and decent production. It’s probably not Plan A, or maybe even Plan B. But it’s not a terrible Plan C.

DEVIN MESORACO
Opening day 2019 age: 30
2018 stats: 274 PA, .221 AVG, .303 OBP, .398 SLG, .700 OPS, 11 HR, 33 RBI, -7 DRS, 0.6 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $3 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. He had one big year with Cincinnati in 2014, but he’s been injured and unproductive ever since. Hard to see how he’d be anything beyond a backup at this point.

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