The Washington Nationals have surprised many a baseball fan this season, currently tied with the Cincinnati Reds with the best record in baseball at 61-40. While the Nationals’ pitching has been consistently awesome this season and the offense has gotten hot as of late despite constant changes to the batting lineup because of player injuries, the Nationals are not perfect. Even good teams have a weak link, and for the Nationals, it is the position behind home plate that needs some work.
The Nationals began the 2012 season with Wilson Ramos as their every-day catcher. After enduring a kidnapping during the off-season, Wilson was slated to have a pretty good year, since he had spent his previous two under the tutelage of future Hall-of-Famer Iván “Pudge” Rodriguez. Wilson was hitting well, and was consistently getting players out who were trying to steal a base. However, in mid-May, Ramos suffered a knee injury during a game against the Reds and is expected to miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Backing up Ramos as catcher was Jesús Flores, who himself was recovering from shoulder surgery and had only seen limited action in the previous 2 years. The Nationals tried bringing up some minor-league catchers, but they all suffered injuries that placed them on the DL as well. Carlos Maldonado suffered a back injury after playing only 4 games; Sandy León has just recently returned after missing over a month with an ankle sprain that he suffered during his Major League debut; and Jhonatan Solano filled in adequately behind the plate but is also on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
Currently, Flores is the starting catcher with León as the backup. The problem with that is that Flores just downright stinks, both as a catcher and as a hitter. He’s currently batting a lousy .227, and he has only caught 5 runners trying to steal a base while allowing 38 bases to be stolen. That’s a terrible 12% caught-stealing percentage; any respectable catcher should have that number at 30% or higher (Ramos has a career-high of 27%, and in his last year as a Major Leaguer, “Pudge” was at 52%).
So what to do about this catcher situation? Nationals’ General Manager, Mike Rizzo, can try and trade for one – the trade deadline is tomorrow, so if he hurries, he may be able to find one. But who should he get? Who can he give up in a trade? It has been speculated for weeks now that the Nationals were going to remain pretty quiet leading up to the July 31 st deadline – the pitchers are happy, the hitters are doing fine, and life seems to be honky-dory in Natstown. The Nationals do have a lot of minor-league talent (despite giving up a lot of minor-leaguers in order to acquire pitcher Gio Gonzalez during the off-season). So Rizzo is in a bit of a pickle (in my opinion, though he may be perfectly content watching his catcher stink day in and day out). Do you leave things the way they are (since they seem to be working), or do you try to acquire a decent catcher who can back up Ramos when he returns next year? If the rest of the Nationals’ offense can make up for Flores’s lack of hitting and he keeps base runners at bay, I say leave things the way they are and wait for Ramos to return next season. Let’s just hope the Nationals don’t face the Pirates in the playoffs; that Andrew McCutchen guy can fly!