The Nationals have agreed to a two-year deal with former Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand first reported on Monday. He’ll earn $10 million — $4M next season and $6M in 2020 — per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:
Breaking: Kurt Suzuki has agreed to a two-year deal with the Nationals.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) November 19, 2018
Suzuki, who turned 35 last month, has posted the best offensive numbers of his 12-year-career over the last two seasons with the Braves. As part of a timeshare designed to keep both him and fellow right-handed hitting catcher Tyler Flowers fresh, Suzuki posted a .276/.341/.485 slash line with 31 homers in 697 plate appearances over two seasons. As our friends at Beyond the Box Score point out, there’s a good argument to be made that he’s been one of the majors’ top five offensive catchers over the past two years:
Highest wRC+ among catchers the past two seasons (min. 500 PA)— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) November 19, 2018
1. Buster Posey: 118
2. Wilson Ramos: 117
3. J.T. Realmuto: 116
4. Kurt Suzuki: 116
5. Yasmani Grandal: 114 https://t.co/ZXNaFuhHEu
Suzuki, who played in 106 or fewer games in each of the last three years, seems likely to be part of a timeshare arrangement with the Nationals, though may be more consistently involved than he was in Atlanta. 24-year-old Pedro Severino made significant strides behind the plate in 2018 and also showed signs of life at the plate, but he struggled more and more as the weather warmed up and finished with a concerning .168/.254/.247 slash line over 213 plate appearances. One would think the Nats still have some faith in Severino, though they obviously can’t tolerate another OPS in the .500s from if they’re planning to seriously compete. 27-year-old Spencer Kieboom could also remain as part of the mix in 2019; he was very strong defensively as a rookie this past season and had a very respectable .745 OPS after the All-Star break, including a .929 OPS over a season-high 42 plate appearances in September. 25-year-old Raudy Read, who was once a highly-regarded prospect but missed the first half of the 2018 season due to a PED suspension and was inconsistent at the plate between Double-A and Triple-A last year, may also be a candidate to team up with Suzuki next year.
Obviously, the Nationals could also abandon their treasure chest of mid-level catching prospects completely and go out and sign another one of the timeshare-type catchers still left on the market, such as Brian McCann, Devin Mesoraco, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, or Robinson Chirinos. They also theoretically could still be candidates to acquire the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto, though Suzuki would be overpaid and overqualified to fill a full-fledged backup role behind the league’s best young catcher.
Whatever the case, the Nationals will hope that Suzuki is an upgrade over Matt Wieters, who had a disastrous stint in Washington after signing a two-year, $21 million deal after spring training started in 2017. Wieters bounced back a bit in 2018, but he still finished his two-year stint in D.C. with a .230/.303/.355 slash line and 18 homers over 736 plate appearances.
Only two players who played in the majors in 2018 have signed major-league deals with new clubs this offseason, but both of them have been platoon-type catchers; Suzuki follows former Diamondbacks backstop Jeff Mathis, who signed a two-year deal with the Rangers late last week. That perhaps signifies that teams feel the catching position is a spot that they need to fill quickly — and that’d be understandable with how mediocre catchers were as a whole around the league last year.
Suzuki is actually the Nationals’ second major-league signing of the offseason, however; they signed former Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who sat out the entirety of the 2018 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, to a one-year deal back in October.