Washington Nationals: Experience At Catcher Could Help Guide Closer Search
By Ricky Keeler
Despite the lack of a closer right now, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker believes Matt Wieters can help find one
In the first two games of spring training, none of the Washington Nationals internal candidates for closers got into the game. Meanwhile, new catcher Matt Wieters has yet to get in a game yet and that won’t happen right away. As for Derek Norris, he caught Gio Gonzalez in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the New York Mets and has been the DH twice (RBI on Monday)
During last weekend, manager Dusty Baker talked about Wieters and Norris as players that can help him find a closer. Here is what Baker had to say, courtesy of Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports:
"“I want to use his brain and (Derek) Norris’ to try to come up with their recommendations who they like: Who do you think has the stuff to be a closer? Cause he’s helped some guys become closers that weren’t closers from the start.”"
While having a lot of catcher depth may seem like a bad thing, it might actually be good for the time being. With that depth, Baker can get a variety of different viewpoints about Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley, and Koda Glover to figure out who will ultimately start the year in that role (barring a trade of course).
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During his time in Baltimore, Wieters caught many different closers. From 2009-2016, Baltimore had five different closers. Two of them were former starters in Alfredo Simon (2010) and Zach Britton (2014-2016). It didn’t affect how the team closed games since Baltimore as a team had 50+ saves in four of those seasons (according to Baseball Reference).
As Baker also said, keep an eye on Norris too. When he was with the A’s, he caught two pitchers in Grant Balfour and Sean Doolittle that were first-time closers at the time. Balfour had 52 combined saves in 2012-2013 before signing with the Rays and Sean Doolittle had 22 saves in 2014. Each reliever made the All-Star team in one of those years.
True, Norris could end up being traded at some point this winter if another team needs a catcher. However, while he’s in camp, he could still make a contribution for the Nats even if he isn’t on the Opening Day roster. In the case of Wieters, maybe he catches Treinen and sees a little bit of Britton since both of them have that power sinker as their signature go-to pitch.
As I wrote last week, the Wieters signing is a home run for the Washington Nationals because it gives them a more dependable option and a switch-hitter in the lineup. Now, you can add his help in finding the closer as another positive aspect of the contract.