Phil Wood: Nationals all set behind the plate

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As they sit around lamenting the Nationals' failure to advance past the National League Division, many local armchair general managers are trying to handicap the changes that will impact the franchise this winter. Amazingly, a lot of them see the need to acquire a new everyday catcher.

Really?

Opening Day starter Wilson Ramos made an early exit with a torn ACL after just 83 at-bats, and backup Jesus Flores played until he was a human bruise from the wear-and-tear. Kurt Suzuki provided some assistance after he was acquired from Oakland, and Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Carlos Maldonado kept the seat warm until their own injuries forced them out of the lineup. Still, the offense provided by all six combined is at least average for a single everyday catcher.

As a group, Nats catchers batted .239 with 16 home runs and 70 RBIs. They slugged .367. Not great but not awful either for a ballclub that won 98 games.

Defensively, fans point to their inability to throw out opposing base stealers. The Nats allowed 111 steals and threw out only 22 runners attempting to steal for a depressing success rate of 16.5 percent. Pretty awful but most of those bases were swiped on the Nats' pitchers, who were exceptionally slow to the plate and less than stellar in holding runners on. You can't blame the catcher when they don't get the baseball in time to make the throw in a timely fashion.

I thought Ramos had regressed defensively when he played last spring. It seemed like the quickness he displayed in 2011 had diminished. Was he already hurt in some way? We don't know. But if he's the guy he looked to be in 2011, it's hard to believe he won't get most of the starts if he's healthy. Writing Ramos' epitaph now is no different than writing off Adam LaRoche last winter.

Suzuki figures to begin the year as the No. 1 catcher if Ramos isn't ready, with Solano or Leon as the backup. Suzuki just turned 29, so he would seem to have a lot left in the tank. He has slugged as many as 15 home runs in a season before and has thrown out as many as 36.8 percent of opposing base runners. He also seems popular with the pitching staff.

Flores was a future star before his shoulder injury in 2009. He has worked tirelessly to get back but may be destined to wear someone else's uniform when all is said and done. He's a non-tender candidate, though at 28 may have some appeal as a trade chip.

Solid catching depth has been a benchmark of the Nationals as an organization. It allowed them to trade Derek Norris and David Freitas to Oakland in separate deals. I seriously doubt they would offer any serious prospects for another backup-type catcher. Guys like Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, Buster Posey and Matt Wieters aren't available, and it's too soon to write off Leon and Solano. The Nats will make some offseason moves, but behind the plate? I don't think so.

Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at philwood@ washingtonexaminer.com.

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Phil Wood

Staff reporter - sports
The Washington Examiner