Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13

Nats could be overloaded at catcher in '13
October 17, 2012, 9:00 am
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As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: Catcher...

C WILSON RAMOS
Stats: 25 G, 96 PA, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .265 AVG, .354 OBP, .398 SLG
1 E, 17% CS, 0.6 WAR
2012 salary: $491,250
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: In his second full year in the big leagues, Ramos looked poised to breakout as one of the game's best young catchers. But his season ended in abrupt fashion May 12 in Cincinnati when he tore the ACL in his right knee, leaving him to start all over again in 2013. The Nationals have every reason to believe Ramos will return 100 percent healthy and pick up where he left off, but there are no guarantees. With Kurt Suzuki now in the fold as well, the club may ease Ramos back into playing shape and have the two split time behind the plate.

C KURT SUZUKI
Stats (w/WSH only): 43 G, 164 PA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .267 AVG, .321 OBP, .404 SLG
3 E, 15% CS, 0.8 WAR (combined OAK+WSH)
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: $6.45 million in 2013, $8.5 million club option in 2014 (guaranteed at $9.25 million if he starts 113 games in 2013)
Where he fits in: Acquired from the A's on Aug. 3 out of desperation following a string of injuries to their catching corps, Suzuki proved far more than a stop-gap solution behind the plate. He turned into one of the Nationals' best clutch hitters down the stretch and developed instant rapport with the pitching staff. Because he's already signed for next season at a healthy price, he's guaranteed to make the club. And given the uncertain nature of Ramos' recovery from his knee injury, Suzuki could wind up the safer bet to see playing time come Opening Day.

C JESUS FLORES
Stats: 83 G, 296 PA, 6 HR, 26 RBI, .213 AVG, .248 OBP, .329 SLG
4 E, 15% CS, 0.0 WAR
2012 salary: $815,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: It was only a few years ago that Flores was considered the organization's long-term answer behind the plate. A major shoulder injury -- plus the acquisitions of Ramos and Suzuki put an end to that line of thinking, and now Flores looks like a man who will be without a job come 2013. Assuming both Ramos and Suzuki are healthy, there won't be a spot on the Nationals' roster for Flores. That makes him a prime trade candidate, or -- if a deal can't be worked out -- a potential non-tender candidate before the Nov. 30 deadline.

C SANDY LEON
Stats: 12 G, 36 PA, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .267 AVG, .389 OBP, .333 SLG
1 E, 14% CS, 0.0 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Summoned straight from Class AA Harrisburg to take Ramos' roster spot, Leon wound up suffering a bad ankle sprain only four innings into his big-league career. He came back later in the season and saw a little bit of playing time, but he's still likely to need some more seasoning before he's truly ready to be a full-time big-leaguer. The Nationals love his skills behind the plate, though, and he's certainly qualified to fill in should something happen to the guys above him on the depth chart.

C JHONATAN SOLANO
Stats: 12 G, 37 PA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .314 AVG, .351 OBP, .571 SLG
0 E, 38% CS, 0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $480,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2016, free agent in 2019
Where he fits in: Like Leon, Solano was a surprise call-up to the big-league roster, his presence needed only because of all the injuries sustained to the rest of the club's catching corps. The 27-year-old affectionately known to teammates as "Onion" impressed in his limited playing time, flashing a solid bat. He wound up dealing with his own injuries, then finished the year in the minors. Solano will likely be ticketed for Class AAA Syracuse again in 2013.

IN THE MINORS
Nearly every catcher in the organization found his way onto the big-league roster at some point this year, so there's not much left in the system. Veteran Carlos Maldonado is a well-respected catcher, but he's not a prospect by any stretch of the imagination. David Freitas was highly regarded at Class A Potomac, but he was dealt to Oakland in exchange for Suzuki. Adrian Nieto, a fifth-round pick in 2008, has only two games of experience above low-Class A Hagerstown. The Nationals used their fifth-round pick in this year's draft on Spencer Kieboom from Clemson.

OFFSEASON NEED?
The Nationals certainly don't need to add any more catchers from outside the organization. They just need to figure out who gets the No. 1 job. If Ramos proves he's healthy in spring training, it would be tough not to give him his starting job back. He's got far more upside than Suzuki, both offensively and defensively. At the same time, the Nationals can't discount what Suzuki did for them down the stretch while understanding he's historically performed better when playing on a regular basis. As for Flores, it would appear his time with the organization is over, a disappointing end to a once-promising career.