Catching market includes one big star, few other options

It’s perhaps not their No. 1 need this winter, but the Nationals absolutely need to add another catcher this winter. Unless they’re willing to enter 2021 with Yan Gomes as the clear-cut starter and either Raudy Read or Tres Barrera as his backup, the Nats are going to have to acquire somebody.

That somebody could be a frontline starter who relegates Gomes to the bench. Or it could be somebody who shares the job with Gomes, much as Kurt Suzuki did the last two seasons.

The good news: There’s one really big-name star available, plus one more solid starting catcher. The bad news: There’s not a whole lot of appealing (or likely) options after that.

Let’s take a look at the free agent class behind the plate ...

Realmuto-Tag-Play-at-Plate-Sidebar.jpgJ.T. REALMUTO
Opening day 2021 age: 30
2020 stats: 195 PA, .266 AVG, .349 OBP, .491 SLG, .840 OPS, 11 HR, 32 RBI, -1 DRS, 1.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 5 years, $125 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate to high. The Nationals have been high on Realmuto for a long time. Remember, Mike Rizzo really wanted to trade for him in 2017-18 but refused to give up Juan Soto and Victor Robles for him. (Probably a smart move.) He’s one of a few true difference-makers in this winter’s market, and he would be a long-term solution to a catching position that has been pretty unstable for the Nats for a while. But Realmuto won’t come cheap. Elite catching is in such high demand, and even during a winter that is expected to be brutal for free agents, there should be no shortage of clubs making hefty offers. Are the Nationals willing to spend that kind of money on a catcher now entering his 30s? It may come down to the number of years Realmuto insists on getting in his deal. Maybe the Nats would offer a higher annual salary for fewer years and hope he takes it.

JAMES McCANN
Opening day 2021 age: 30
2020 stats: 111 PA, .289 AVG, .360 OBP, .536 SLG, .896 OPS, 7 HR, 15 RBI, 5 DRS, 1.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 2 years, $16 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Moderate to high. He’s not on Realmuto’s level - few, if any, catchers are - but McCann is coming off a couple of really strong seasons with the White Sox (after four less-impressive seasons with the Tigers). His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentages all have gone up the last two years. He rates well defensively and throws out runners at a solid 36 percent clip for his career. Like Realmuto, he’s entering his 30s. Unlike Realmuto, he won’t command a risky long-term deal.

YADIER MOLINA
Opening day 2021 age: 38
2020 stats: 156 PA, .262 AVG, .303 OBP, .359 SLG, .662 OPS, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 DRS, 0.1 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $10 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low to moderate. I mean, who wouldn’t want a future Hall of Famer behind the plate? In a vacuum, the Nationals should have significant interest in Molina. This, of course, isn’t a vacuum. Though he’s a free agent, he certainly prefers to re-sign with the Cardinals so he can finish his career with one franchise. And it’s hard to believe St. Louis won’t meet Molina’s likely modest salary request. Still, if that longtime relationship somehow breaks up, the Nats would be wise to be ready to swoop in.

JASON CASTRO
Opening day 2021 age: 33
2020 stats: 92 PA, .188 AVG, .293 OBP, .375 SLG, .668 OPS, 2 HR, 9 RBI, -1 DRS, -0.3 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $4 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low to moderate. Though he’s had a little bit of pop, Castro has never been much of an offensive force, owner of a career 92 OPS+ (below league average). He had an especially rough year with the Angels and Padres. But he’s an experienced (and affordable) catcher, and if the Nationals are simply looking for someone to share the job with Gomes, they could do worse.

MIKE ZUNINO
Opening day 2021 age: 30
2020 stats: 84 PA, .147 AVG, .238 OBP, .360 SLG, .598 OPS, 4 HR, 10 RBI, -2 DRS, -0.2 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $3 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low to moderate. His stats won’t blow you away, but Zunino did make a bit of a name for himself this October because of his power potential (he hit four postseason homers for the Rays) and uncanny ability to block pitches in the dirt in crucial situations. Ideally, the Nationals would want much more than that in a new catcher. But again, if they’re simply looking for a solid defensive No. 2 guy behind Gomes, Zunino is a cheap option.

KURT SUZUKI
Opening day 2021 age: 37
2020 stats: 129 PA, .270 AVG, .349 OBP, .396 SLG, .745 OPS, 2 HR, 17 RBI, -4 DRS, 0.1 bWAR
Projected contract: 1 year, $4 million
Nats’ likely interest level: Low. The Nationals have never explicitly said they wouldn’t re-sign Suzuki, but the odds seems pretty low. He was a very nice addition for them in 2019, no doubt, but his skills do appear to be deteriorating. He barely hit for any power this season. And, most notably, he has all kinds of trouble throwing out runners. As durable as he is despite the pounding he takes behind the plate, Suzuki is approaching the finish line of a solid career. And as much as they’re grateful for his contributions toward their 2019 championship, you have to think the Nats recognize it’s time to move on.

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