Did you hear the news? The Nationals have agreed with Matt Wieters on what is essentially a one-year, $10.5 million deal with an identical player option for next year. A quick bit of analysis: It’s good. For Mike Rizzo, it’s found money; it didn’t seem like ownership was going to spend that money anywhere else this offseason, and now he gets another asset. For Ted Lerner, it’s a likely upgrade at catcher and a chance to stick it to Peter Angelos and the Orioles. For the team, it’s a better bat and better defender behind the dish (though seemingly a worse pitch framer) instead of hoping for a bounce-back from literally the worst hitter in baseball last year.
But this piece won’t be an analysis of Wieters’ merits as a player. Instead, I want to look at the many doors this move has opened for the Nationals. With a surplus of catching, the team has myriad options on how to move forward.
Trade Derek Norris
This seems like the most obvious path, and Dusty Baker heavily implied it’s what the team will do. He’s never played a game for the team, nor has he ever been a backup. The Nationals gave up a decent prospect for him, so he is not without trade value. That value could be somewhat diminished now that most teams are set behind the plate, but he’ll return something of value.
Every team has prospects and every team wants more of them, so anyone could offer minor leaguers for Norris and make the Nationals happy. But they could also try to kill two birds with one stone and swap Norris for a reliever, adding depth to a bullpen that certainly could use it. That reliever would certainly not be a closer, but depth is very valuable when the first options in the minors are Matt Grace and Rafael Martin. Either way, a Norris trade would be a fine move.
But speaking of relievers…
Trade Pedro Severino
It has been reported that the Chicago White Sox have interest in Severino, and that the Nationals signing Wieters could kickstart the previously dormant talks for their closer, David Robertson. But there’s one problem with that: Adding a major-league catcher doesn’t really improve the Nationals’ minor league depth.
If the Nats dealt Severino, they would still have a logjam with Wieters, Norris, and Jose Lobaton. Norris does have options left, but he hasn’t played at AAA in four years, and it would be poor form to stick a veteran in Syracuse (especially one making $4.2 million this year). They would still need to deal Norris, leaving them in the same position as if they had traded Severino before signing Wieters. Of course, they could hold on to Wieters and Norris if they decided to…
Designate Jose Lobaton for Assignment
This option has hardly been mentioned, which is curious given how much sense it makes. Despite his joyful presence, defensive aptitude, and game-winning NLDS homer, Lobaton is pretty clearly the least talented of the three MLB catchers. He’s also the most replaceable, as Severino and even Spencer Kieboom could likely do his job just as well right now.
But having a defensive whiz backup catcher is worth something, especially with Wieters’ lukewarm reputation as a receiver. Lobaton’s weak bat is still miles better than what Norris did last season, and if the latter doesn’t rebound, he’ll be a less-fun Lobaton with far worse defense, pitch framing, and game calling. Norris will likely be the better player, but that also means he will bring more in trade, while Lobaton would likely be claimed off waivers for nothing.
It sure seems like the Nationals have to make a trade or cut someone. But before we chisel that in stone, let’s consider one last option.
Yes, it seems crazy. But carrying three catchers is far from unheard of, especially among baseball’s best managers: Bruce Bochy has been known to keep three catchers on the Giants bench, and Joe Maddon did the same for the Cubs at times last year.
This move would be contingent on a little more flexibility from the backstops. Norris has played a decent amount of first base in his career, while Wieters has just four games there. But if either can play a passable left field, they could bump Chris Heisey off the roster and whichever of Wieters and Norris isn’t starting any given game would become the primary right-handed pinch hitter. They wouldn’t be full-timers there by any stretch, but neither is Heisey, and one game every once in a while would be sufficient.
It’s very unlikely that either of these plodding catchers (combined steals last three years: 16) could become an acceptable left fielder, but if they did, they’d surely be more valuable than Heisey by virtue of being able to play catcher. This move would bring a lot more flexibility to the Nationals’ bench, add depth at catcher (and potentially facilitate a Severino trade), and allow them to keep Lobaton. It’s a fringe case for a reason, but it’s more realistic than you might think.Tags: Chicago White Sox, Chris Heisey, Derek Norris, Jose Lobaton, Matt Grace, Matt Wieters, Mike Rizzo, Nationals, Nats, Rafael Martin, Spencer Kieboom, Ted Lerner, Washington Nationals