Overshadowed by the James Paxton trade was the Nationals' signing Monday of catcher Kurt Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million contract — his second stint in Washington.
Suzuki leaves Atlanta, where he had the two best seasons of his career, hitting .276/.341/.485 with averages of 16 homers and 50 RBI in just 348 plate appearances. In 2017, four of his 19 homers came in 10 games against the Phillies.
Aside from the NL East change of scenery, what does this have to do with the Phillies?
It helps the cause in re-signing Wilson Ramos, if the Phils are indeed as interested as they should be.
Ramos spent seven seasons with the Nationals, and the Nats tried in 2018 to reacquire him before the Phillies did. Had they not inked Suzuki, they likely would have again explored a reunion with Ramos.
Yasmani Grandal, because he is a year younger than Ramos and has less of an injury history, is viewed as the top free-agent catcher, even after the ugly postseason. However, Grandal declined the $17.9 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers, meaning the team that signs him will forfeit a high draft pick — either a pick preceding or following the second round, based on the signing team's revenues and market size.
That is meaningful. It could make a catching-needy team think twice about prioritizing Grandal over Ramos.
The teams that stick out in the race for catching — i.e. Grandal or Ramos — are the Phillies, Braves, Mets, Rockies, Red Sox, Astros, Angels and Twins. Removing the Nationals from the equation helps.
The Phillies could, perhaps unrealistically, talk themselves into thinking they don't need Ramos in 2019, that they're seeing enough improvement from Jorge Alfaro. Many inside the Phils' organization remain high on Alfaro because of things like exit velocity, arm strength and pitch-framing. But there is obviously so much more that goes into being a productive major-league catcher. Alfaro in 2018 struggled in all phases of receiving other than framing. He struggled to block balls, and in some befuddling moments struggled to catch strikes. He also has struck out nine times more than he's walked as a major-leaguer.
Could Alfaro be a productive catcher if he fixes a few major deficiencies? Sure. Will that happen in 2019, which figures to be a win-now year for the Phillies? Tough to bank on.
If the Phillies feel comfortable with where Ramos is physically, they should bring him back on a two- or three-year deal. They may have to slightly overpay to get a deal done quickly, but it's worth it at a position that offers as little offense leaguewide as catcher. It probably makes more sense for Ramos to go to the AL, where he can be preserved as a designated hitter at times, but 31-year-olds eying their last big payday tend to follow the money.
When Ramos was actually able to bat in the middle of the Phillies' order in the second half of 2018, he was awesome. He hit .337/.396/.483 with 10 extra-base hits and 10 walks and 101 plate appearances.
Even if the Phillies make the big Bryce Harper splash, it would still be nice to have Ramos in the five- or six-hole.
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