Nats have some time to make catching decisions

The immediate reaction to Thursday's news of Matt Wieters' hamstring surgery was to wonder how quickly Mike Rizzo will be on the phone in search of another catcher.

Those phone calls undoubtedly will occur, but don't count on any major moves being made within a matter of days. In all likelihood, the Nationals won't be in a position to acquire a catcher until later this summer.

That's partly just a fact of the way the baseball industry works. Significant trades are tough to pull off in May and early June. Most teams aren't ready to concede yet they're going to be sellers. Most teams that have a particular need have little-to-no leverage at this point. (If only one team needs a catcher in May, and only one or two teams have an available catcher and are willing to deal him, the price is going to be exorbitant.)

But this also is a byproduct of the Nationals' particular situation at the moment. Yes, they probably need another proven catcher to replace Wieters (who is likely to miss the majority, if not all, of the remainder of the season) but they don't necessarily know yet whether they need a No. 1 catcher or a No. 2 catcher.

Severino-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgMany in the organization have been wanting to find out for a while whether Pedro Severino is ready to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. Some believe he is; others are skeptical. Regardless, the time has come to find out.

Severino, 24, is hitting .274 with a .386 on-base percentage and .743 OPS in 88 plate appearances so far this season. He's been in the big leagues at various points each of the last four seasons, during which time he has hit .261 with a .363 on-base percentage and .744 OPS across 157 plate appearances.

Severino has shown a knack for delivering some big hits. He runs exceptionally well for a catcher. He has thrown out 40 percent of would-be basestealers in his brief career, well above the league average rate of 28 percent.

More importantly, Severino has made some significant strides in his game preparation and game-calling skills, earning praise from many veteran members of the Nationals pitching staff.

"I love pitching to him," said no less an authority than Max Scherzer. "I love him back there. I love his energy. He does some great stuff. He's got great instincts back there, and we're really getting on the same page of how we want to take a scouting report and implement it."

It's entirely possible the Nationals already have their replacement for Wieters in-house, at no extra cost. They need to spend the next month or so finding out for sure if that's actually the case. If it is, they can afford to look merely for an experienced backup instead of a No. 1 catcher who is going to cost an arm and a leg.

Speaking of which ... it's no secret the Nationals coveted J.T. Realmuto over the winter. And it's also no secret the Marlins' asking price was stiff: Victor Robles or Juan Soto. There's no reason to believe that asking price is suddenly going to go down, not with the Nats in a more desperate situation now than they were in December and January.

Rizzo refused to engage in that conversation at the time, and rightfully so. Robles is an elite prospect who probably would be the Nats' starting left fielder right now if he didn't suffer a significant elbow injury last month at Triple-A Syracuse. (For those who keep asking: the Nationals expect the young star, who turns 21 on Saturday, to be healthy sometime later this summer.)

Soto, meanwhile, may be propelling himself beyond Robles and into No. 1 prospect status with his torrid start to the season, already earning two promotions, from low-Single-A to high-Single-A to Double-A. In a minor league career totaling 508 plate appearances, Soto has 22 homers, 100 RBIs and a .361/.433/.608 slash line. As my colleague Byron Kerr pointed out, those are comparable-to-better numbers than Bryce Harper put up in a similar number of minor league plate appearances (569): 23 homers, 75 RBIs, a .300/.397/.521 slash line.

The Nationals can't reasonably be expected to give up either Robles or Soto for Realmuto.

Wilson Ramos? It's an enticing thought, with the Rays going nowhere this season and Ramos healthy and due to become a free agent again at season's end. The 30-year-old is hitting .289 with four homers, 18 RBIs and a .763 OPS over 129 plate appearances. But these kinds of reunions typically are much easier to make happen in someone's head and heart than in reality. And again, the Rays aren't just going to dump him, not when they know they have the upper hand in this negotiation.

In the end, the Nationals have some time to figure this out. Severino is playing well; despite less playing time than most others at his position, he ranks 16th among all major league catchers with a 0.6 WAR to date. The Nats as a team rank 13th in the majors in both WAR (0.8) and OPS (.702) for catchers.

The time has come to find out if Severino is the guy to handle the catching job for the rest of this season and beyond. Once they've answered that question, the Nationals can decide whether they need to pursue an expensive new No. 1 or a more affordable No. 2.

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