VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals enter the spring with more competition at catcher than just about any other position on their roster. But manager Jim Riggleman framed that competition in a little different light this morning, saying Ivan Rodriguez will be the starter, at least to open the year, while Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores will battle to back him up.
"My thought is that Pudge is our catcher," Riggleman said. "We're going to go out there, and Pudge is going to continue to lead our ballclub as a leader behind the plate, a good hitter, just a good baseball player. He's got a lot of baseball left. So he's our catcher."
That Rodriguez will start the year at catcher shouldn't come as any surprise; he played 106 games for the Nationals last year, he works well with opening day starter Livan Hernandez and he's earned the early nod, both because of his status in the game and the fact the Nationals don't exactly know what else they have at the position. But it wouldn't be surprising to see the Nationals back Rodriguez off by mid-season, especially if Ramos or Flores is playing well. In a best-case scenario, the team could try to trade Rodriguez this summer.
Riggleman said he's "99 percent" certain he won't carry three catchers this year, and the Nationals don't want to let Ramos or Flores collect rust on the bench. That means one of them will likely start the year at Triple-A Syracuse, and I'd expect that to be Flores, unless he simply outplays Ramos this spring. One of those two catchers could turn into trade bait, as well, especially if Derek Norris progresses as a receiver this year. But for now, the Nationals have a surplus at a position where they've been undermanned for most of their time in Washington.
"Whoever wins that second spot is going to get incorporated into the lineup more and more as we go along," Riggleman said. "Whether it's Ramos or Flores, they're very talented guys that we're not going to let them die on the vine. They've got to get playing time. Whichever guy is there, they're going to get playing time and stay sharp, and as the year goes on, probably get a little more playing time."