Nationals

Nationals

An intriguing cost was slipped into Mike Rizzo’s emphatic moves to fix the catcher position: 25-year-old right-hander Jefry Rodriguez.

Just a few months ago, Rodriguez was a member of the Nationals’ careening rotation. He also hopped into the bullpen. They called him up directly from Double-A Harrisburg when injuries and depletion of their minor league system forced their hand.

Rodriguez wasn't ready, but there he was, a 6-foot-6 project suddenly in the major leagues. He threw six innings against the Hartford Yard Goats on May 31. June 3, he was standing on the mound against the eventual National League East Division champion Atlanta Braves.

Friday night, Rodriguez, outfielder Daniel Johnson and a player to be named later were sent to Cleveland for catcher Yan Gomes.

Gomes makes the Nationals better. He is expected to combine with Kurt Suzuki to pull a dismal offensive position, 14th in the NL in OPS last season, out of the muck. Both are right-handed, but can play in part like a platoon because Gomes is much better against left-handers and Suzuki’s splits are about even. It’s not a clean-splits situation. However, Davey Martinez will be able to mix accordingly as well as have Gomes to swing at left-handed pitching as a pinch-hitter when Suzuki starts.

The Nationals were forced into this investment following a dismal year from Matt Wieters and the other catchers in the system, Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino. Wieters’ poor performance cost $10.5 million after he opted in follow a poor performance in 2017. Scott Boras’ magic at work.

Kieboom and Severino each received thorough chances last season. Signing Suzuki and trading for Gomes summarizes how the organization viewed the results.

The financial cost is a clean exchange for a team trying to reduce payroll. Suzuki and Gomes will combine to make $11 million in 2019 base salary. That’s a mere $500,000 more than Wieters alone last season. The thoroughly upgraded position remains revenue neutral for all intents and purposes.

Suzuki is not a good defensive catcher. Gomes, if being assessed by Statcast’s pop time metric which combines arm strength with exchange time, is strong. He finished second via that measurement last season. J.T. Realmuto was first.

Johnson is a modest prospect who was expendable because of the position he plays. The Nationals have a logjam in the outfield, for multiple years to come, even without Bryce Harper. There’s no reason to sit on Johnson if he helps fill a need in a trade, especially one that provides the team control of the incoming player. The Nationals now hold consecutive team options on Gomes in 2020 and 2021.

However, moving Rodriguez further pares an already thin minor league pitching reservoir. Rodriguez was summoned last season because no one at the Triple-A level was pitching well enough even for a spot start. The Syracuse Chiefs rolled out one of Triple-A baseball’s worst pitching staffs last season. Austin Voth finished with a 4.37 ERA, Erick Fedde 4.41.

Further down the pipeline, 2017 second-round pick Wil Crowe delivered a 6.15 ERA in five starts after reaching Double-A Harrisburg. The Nationals’ 2017 first-round pick, Seth Romero, had Tommy John surgery in late August. He’s out 12 months.

Which is why including Rodriguez in the deal for Gomes is significant. His poor results at the major league level last season (5.71 ERA) don’t speak to an uber-prospect. He’s not. However, he was of value in this organization which quickly went from pitching rich to significantly thin, especially if he was deployed as a multi-inning bullpen option in 2019.

Washington’s work in the 2018 draft showed a recognition of the thread-bare situation, which began its erosion when three pitchers were sent to Chicago for Adam Eaton. The Nationals selected high school pitcher Mason Denaburg in the first round this year. They made 40 picks in the draft; 23 were pitchers. Good thing. They just lost another.

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