Suzuki signing was smart - if Nats sign another catcher, too

It never fails. The Nationals go weeks without making any news, and then the moment I go on vacation they suddenly create headlines. So I can’t say I was shocked when - just as I was packing my bags and preparing to head to the airport eight days ago - the first report of the Nats signing Kurt Suzuki emerged.

Yes, it happened again.

Thanks, as always, to Byron Kerr and Pete Kerzel for stepping in to cover the news and everything else that happened over the last week while I was relaxing and enjoying Thanksgiving with my family. They pretty much touched on every angle of the Suzuki signing, but I did want to share a few thoughts of my own before shifting attention to whatever’s on tap this week.

Like I said, I wasn’t shocked by the news, but not simply because it broke while I was on vacation. Suzuki seemed all along like a fairly strong candidate for the Nationals to pursue, and sure enough general manager Mike Rizzo didn’t wait around long before snagging the popular former member of his roster.

You don’t need me to tell you that the offensive production the Nats received from their catchers the last two seasons was abysmal. Things did perk up over the final two months this year, but in the broader picture this has been a significant problem area. Nationals catchers collectively posted a .609 OPS in 2017-18, worst in the majors and a full 56 points worse than the next-lowest team in the National League (the Rockies).

No, Suzuki isn’t J.T. Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal or Wilson Ramos. Technically, he’s been even better, with an .834 OPS the last two seasons that tops all major league catchers with at least 600 plate appearances.

Which isn’t to suggest Suzuki, who turned 35 last month, is a lock to repeat his performance over the next two years. It’s possible, but it’s more likely he’ll regress.

Which is fine, because he’s still a substantial upgrade (offensively) from what the Nationals have had behind the plate the last two seasons.

The key, as has been noted by others, is that the Nats don’t think they just found themselves a new No. 1 catcher and run Suzuki into the ground. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the two best offensive seasons of his career came when he started only 71 and 83 games. And the Nats should come to the same conclusion.

Yes, Suzuki insists he can catch 110-120 games, no problem. But that’s of course what any player is going to say. It’s up to the Nationals to recognize that’s probably not the best way to get the most out of him, not to mention ensure he’s still standing upright come September.

So with that in mind, I don’t believe the team is done upgrading the catcher position this winter. Even though Spencer Kieboom impressed many people in the organization with his defensive skills as a 27-year-old rookie, and even though Pedro Severino is now out of options, the Nationals would be wise to invest in another veteran to share the job with Suzuki.

Wieters-Throws-White-Sidebar.jpgIdeally, they would look for a more defensive-minded catcher who could complement the offensively gifted Suzuki. Someone like - wait for it - Matt Wieters.

I know what you’re thinking, but there’s some logic here. For all his flaws, Wieters established a very good rapport with the top members of the Nationals pitching staff, especially Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. There’s a reason those two (and Gio Gonzalez, before he was traded) wanted Wieters behind the plate for their starts, even if the team was sacrificing offense in the process.

Wieters is not a No. 1 catcher anymore. But give him, say, 70 starts while Suzuki gets 90, and you might just have the makings of a really productive (and really affordable) partnership. If you combine their stats over 659 plate appearances this season, you get a .258/.331/.416 slash line, 32 doubles, 20 homers, 80 RBIs and a .747 OPS that would’ve made them the fifth-most-productive catching corps in the majors.

And you’d get all that for fewer than $10 million, helping save precious funds to upgrade other positions - hello, second base! - and allowing Kieboom to remain at Triple-A to be called up at a moment’s notice if somebody got hurt.

No, a Suzuki-Wieters catching tandem isn’t going to leave talent evaluators drooling. But it just might wind up one of the more underrated pairings behind the plate in the majors.

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