What a healthy Wilson Ramos would mean for Kurt Suzuki

The previously unhittable Justin Verlander gets smacked around and sees his postseason ERA jump from 0.74 to 11.25? Barry Zito throws a gem in the World Series and then is relieved by Tim Lincecum? Pablo Sandoval joins Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols in elite World Series company?

You never know what will happen in this game.

We certainly didn’t know what the Nationals would get from Kurt Suzuki when he came over from the Athletics in a trade at the beginning of August.

He had struggled mightily from an offensive perspective this season in Oakland, hitting just .218 with one home run and a .536 OPS in 75 games. The Nats admitted they acquired Suzuki primarily for defense and his ability to handle a pitching staff, and hoped they could bring him back around offensively.

Not only did Suzuki live up to expectations defensively, but he became one of the Nationals’ most clutch hitters down the stretch this season. After a slow start in his first week and a half with the Nats, Suzuki batted .294 with five homers and 20 RBIs over his final 33 regular season games. He put up a .806 OPS, gave the Nationals a legitimate offensive presence in the No. 8 spot in the order and did all that while playing nearly every single day over the last few weeks of the season.

Suzuki was a workhorse in the regular season, and then added two big RBIs in the postseason, as well. The Nats couldn’t have asked for much more out of him.

After all that, Suzuki will likely go into the 2013 season as the Nationals’ backup catcher behind Wilson Ramos.

Here’s what general manager Mike Rizzo said immediately after the trade for Suzuki when asked about the catching situation next season: “We’re going to have two pretty darn good catchers once Ramos gets healthy at the beginning of spring training. We’ll have a veteran presence behind a good, young player.”

Yes, that was before Suzuki’s offensive resurgence, but the message is fairly clear - Ramos is still regarded as the Nationals’ catcher of the future.

The 25-year-old Ramos, who was acquired by the Nats in the Matt Capps deal two seasons ago, is expected to be fully healthy entering spring training after having surgery to repair a torn ACL and torn meniscus in his right knee this summer. He will need to be eased into action, but the Nats believe he’ll return to his pre-injury form and be able to handle a normal starting catcher’s workload.

Thought of as one of the top young catchers in the game, Ramos can hit for power and average and is strong defensively, although he could stand to cut a little weight and improve his ability to handle throws on plays at the plate.

A healthy Ramos will make Suzuki a backup, and a highly paid one at that. Suzuki is set to make nearly $6.5 million for 2013, a high price for a No. 2 catcher. Ramos, meanwhile, will earn the league minimum, which will likely be just over $500,000.

Of course, given how well he performed for the Nats in 2012, Suzuki should still get his share of playing time. The Nats could keep Ramos fresh and make sure he’s healthy by playing Suzuki a couple times a week, and they likely wouldn’t see much drop-off at the position.

Too much depth is never a bad thing. Having two starting-caliber catchers on the roster will only give the Nats more options, and if Ramos has health issues related to his knee, Suzuki will be there ready to step in.

It’s also possible that Ramos could struggle in spring, opening the starting job up and making it a battle for the No. 1 spot. But it sure appears that Ramos will enter spring as the Nationals’ starting catcher, leaving Suzuki, one of their top clutch players during the 2012 postseason run, on the bench most nights.

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