Posted on November 19, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Washington Nationals have a lot of issues to address this offseason. But they’ve chosen to address their situation behind the plate first. Washington has reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki. The agreement, which is still pending a physical, will pay Suzuki $4 million in 2019 and $6 million in 2020. That salary provides the 35-year old Suzuki with a pay increase after making $3.5 million with the Braves this past season.
This will actually be Suzuki’s second stint in Washington. The Nationals acquired him in August 2012 in a trade with Oakland, only to send him back to the A’s in a separate trade the following August. Since then, Suzuki has enjoined stints with both the Twins and Braves, including an all-star season in 2014 while playing in Minnesota.
While often regarded as a solid backstop and great clubhouse presence, Suzuki is actually coming off the two best offensive seasons of his career. Suzuki posted career-highs in average (.283), OPS (.887) and home runs (19) in 2017. Those numbers only dipped slightly in 2018 with a few more at-bats as he split playing time almost evenly with Tyler Flowers. Part of Suzuki’s offensive explosion the last two seasons could be due to playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Atlanta. However, his offensive numbers on the road this past season were solid, so there may not be a huge drop-off in 2019.
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The signing of Suzuki means the Nationals are ready to move on from Matt Wieters. Regarded as a top-flight offensive catcher a few years ago, Wieters posted somewhat disappointing numbers over the past two seasons. He was also plagued by injuries this past season, causing him to lose playing time to youngsters like Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom.
As it stands, Suzuki figures to take on the duties as Washington’s primary catcher. That would leave Severino and Kieboom to battle it out in spring training for the backup job. The Nationals have been high on Severino in the past. He has all the tools to be a major league catcher from a defensive standpoint. However, his .168 average and .502 OPS were disappointing from an offensive standpoint. Kieboom only fared slightly better offensively when given a chance to play this past season.
Signing Suzuki may not preclude the Nats from adding another veteran catcher to split time with Suzuki. At this point, they may not trust Severino or Kieboom enough to hand the backup job to either one. However, adding Suzuki on a two-year deal would appear to take them out of the running in the J.T. Realmuto trade sweepstakes. The Marlins are more likely than ever to trade Realmuto at some point this offseason. The Nationals have been pro-active in trade talks in the past. But the price for acquiring Realmuto will be steep and is apparently too steep for Washington.
In the end, signing Suzuki is a fine solution to Washington’s catching situation. He’s reliable defensively and brings plenty of promise offensively after his performance the past two seasons. The move doesn’t make a huge splash. But with a few other key areas to address, the Nationals should be in good shape by signing Suzuki this early in the offseason.