Washington Nationals Move On From Matt Wieters
By Ron Juckett
As the Washington Nationals value catcher’s who frame pitches, they likely will not sign free agent Matt Wieters.
The Washington Nationals will not go after free agent catcher Matt Wieters.
That is what MASN’s Pete Kerzel believes, thinking Pedro Severino, Jose Lobaton and Derek Norris will audition for the job in Spring Training. Odds are Norris and Lobaton break camp and go north for Opening Day while Severino gets playing time for Triple-A Syracuse.
Kerzel’s reasoning is sound. Although Wieters is the best potential offensive player of the bunch, at least in the short term, his lack of ability to frame pitches differs from what Washington wants. Combined with a salary demand above $10 million per year and his previous Tommy John surgery, and the Nats passed.
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With a front line starting rotation and a bullpen adjusting to new roles, having a catcher who can steal a strike or two is a bonus. The quicker you can get out of an inning, the better. As home run production rises, stealing a ball away from a Kris Bryant or a Freddie Freeman is a good thing.
As with the quarterback in football and a basketball point guard, the catcher is the field general. He controls how his pitcher throws and manages the game from behind the plate. It is not an accident that some of the sport’s best managers were catchers. Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia and Mike Matheny are recent examples of catchers winning at the next level.
With Norris, his ability not only to call a game, but help his pitcher has improved the last few years. Lobaton’s defensive abilities have always been solid. It is his bat that holds him up. Severino is 23. Those skills will come in time. As soon as he can call his own pitches with his pitchers confident with the decision, his playing time will increase.
General Manager Mike Rizzo is considered an old-school baseball executive. Not a huge fan of advanced statistics and sabermetrics in the past, he embraced a more modern approach to the Winter Meetings. The study of how a catcher can help frame a pitch—and steal a strike or an out—fits into an advanced line of thinking.
As the Nationals continue to figure how best to spend their money, passing on Wieters while hoping for a return to his glory days with the Baltimore Orioles makes sense. If Norris can find his batting stroke and hit closer to .250 than .150, that is progress.
With the high expectations the fans have for Washington, along with the team, standing with the catching hand they have might seem risky. Yet, the front office has confidence in the roster they put together.
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We may be impatient if Norris breaks slowly out of the gate, but Rizzo is aware baseball seasons are marathons, not sprints. Understanding how important the catcher is to his team is more important than an early three-strikeout affair. He feels he has it right.