Today, the Nats made just the kind of trade I was advocating. They needed a catcher, but they couldn’t get a top level guy, at least not without paying a steep price. It’s hard to imagine them wanting to do that, considering they have a young, talented catcher under control for many more years in Wilson Ramos. But they needed somebody, and so instead, they traded away David Freitas, a decent hitter who doesn’t have great defensive skills, a guy that Keith Law doesn’t seem to think will have an impactful Major League career:
In exchange, they got the A’s starting catcher, Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki was having a pretty bad season at the plate, and the A’s want to start rolling out Derek Norris, one of the guys they got from the Nats in the Gio Gonzalez deal, so the Nats were able to get him cheaply. But will he be effective? One of the things I didn’t want the Nats to do is go out and get a backup caliber guy – they have enough of those. Jesus Flores is one of those guys, even though he has made some big contributions to the club. Suzuki hasn’t been great this year, but I believe he’s better than any of their in-house options this year, and can probably help mend what is turning out to be the only hole in their lineup.
Starting with this year, Suzuki is batting a measly .218/.250/.286, which is awful even compared with Flores’ .225/.262/.324. Some of that can be attributed to the unfriendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum, which is murder on hitters. And he has hit better away – his .256/.281/.316 mark as a visitor is better than what Flores has done this year. In addition to having a better season than Flores (away from Oakland), he’s a better defensive catcher, so even without much more offense, it’s still a tradeup.
However, his offense may have more to give. The move from the AL to the NL is not an insiginficant one. If he improves on the hitting at all thanks to that move, he would easily be the best catcher in the group. And at only 28 years old, he’s probably not in a steep age related decline. Although catching does take its toll and age guys faster, it’s unlikely that he is just going to fall off the map. So a .536 OPS from a guy with 5 years of OPS over .650, three of them over .700 probably isn’t an indicator of the future, just really poor first half.
His defense is also solid. Fangraphs give him a positive Fielding Runs Above Replacement in all seasons but one. He has a 39% CS rate this season – the highest among those qualified. Last year he was in the middle of the pack, after sitting towards the bottom of the league the year before. His isn’t Pudge Rodriguez, but he is an average defensive catcher who has a good arm. Flores (and much of this rests on the pitchers, but not all of it) sits dead last among all catchers, qualified and non-qualified, with a 10% CS rate.
The Nats ended up with a pretty good catcher for little cost. Let’s not pretend this is more than it is – if they got a starting caliber catcher, it’s not like he’s one of the best in the league. But if he hits better than he did in the AL, and we’re talking improvement on that .600 OPS away from Oakland, then they might be on to something. And his defense appears to be better than what they have right now as well. It’s hard to imagine him being better than you’re average NL catcher, but even if he’s slightly below that, this team just made a move to improve the position that was their biggest problem. That makes the Nationals better, and for a team that has the second best record in the Majors, that’s pretty exciting.