Washington Nationals: Replacing the replacement-level catchers

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WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: Matt Wieters #32 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with teammates after the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park on August 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. Nationals won 10-4. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: Matt Wieters #32 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with teammates after the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park on August 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. Nationals won 10-4. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /
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Washington Nationals Matt Wieters
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /

Matt Wieters has struggled through two seasons behind the dish for the Washington Nationals, so a league-wide search for a catching replacement begins.

The Washington Nationals have had a problem at catcher ever since Wilson Ramos went down injured at the end of 2016. Once again, it’ll be at the fore of the front office’s mind this off-season.

Buster Olney cited Fangraphs last Friday with this fun fact about catchers.“Top MLB Catchers in WAR this season: 1 J.T. Realmuto 2) Francisco Cervelli. And the rest of the field is far behind them”

The stars of yesteryear are waning. Buster Posey is out the year, Joe Mauer is both not very good and a first baseman, and Yadier Molina is aging. Even much-hyped Yankees backstop Gary Sanchez is slashing only .194/.289/.419. All-Star J.T. Realmuto is a unicorn as the lone superstar left behind the dish.

This may not be a one-year aberration either. Seemingly, twelve teams have a secure catching situation for 2019. That means the other 18 teams will be on the lookout for improvements or augmentations from this year’s crop of uninspired free agent catchers.

Complicating matters, catching remains one those ephemeral baseball talents that sabermetrics has yet to quantify in a way that satisfies anyone. Take stolen base prevention. We gather information on everything, including catcher pop time, caught stealing rate, the frequency of attempted steals, but none account for every variable to be an independent metric.

Unfortunately, pick your metric and Washington Nationals starting catcher Matt Wieters has not been very good. A 32-year-old, four-time All-Star has a role, but not starting catcher. Oblique and hamstring injuries have limited Wieters to 68 games, but frankly, he’s played plenty. Wieters is sporting a .230/.312/.349 slash line, which isn’t ghastly, but his 74 OPS+ and 76 wRC+ make it clear Wieters’ bat is solidly 25% below average.

It’s concerning how long this problem has persisted in DC. On the Nats’ career catching WAR list, Wieters ranks ninth all-time with 0.1 total WAR. His backup Spencer Kieboom ranks one spot ahead at 0.2 total WAR. In the nineteen seasons of Nationals baseball, only two catchers have more than 1.0 career WAR. Brian Schneider had a 3.4 WAR between 2005 and 2007, and Wilson Ramos with a 10.2 WAR from 2011 to 2016.

The bright side of suiting up a replacement level catcher is he should be easily replaceable. The bad news is, as Buster Olney points out, there will be competition for even the barely-above-average backstop in this market.

That said, there are names available. Many of the names from our mid-season trade targets list still apply, but Mike Rizzo and company should consider shelling out for the following targets.

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