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Posted at 6:53 PM ET, 11/18/2010

With Jesus Flores healthy, a look at the Nationals catching situation

By Adam Kilgore

The return to health of catcher Jesus Flores gives the Nationals one of their happiest subplots of the offseason. It also gives them a proverbial good problem: a stable of catchers for playing time to be divided amongst.

With Flores, currently playing winter ball in Venezuelan with a finally-healthy shoulder, the Nationals have three catchers who could be candidates to earn significant playing time, either in a platoon or as a clear-cut starter: Flores, emerging prospect Wilson Ramos and future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

Any number of things could happen between now and opening day, but the most likely scenario is that Flores and Ramos will compete in spring training to make the major league club alongside Rodriguez. General Manager Mike Rizzo all but ruled out keeping all three catchers on the major league roster to begin the season, because he wants Ramos, 23, to develop and Flores, 26, to continue to catch up on missed time.

"One of those two young catchers needs to catch," Rizzo said. "With Flores not playing in any games last year, he's got some catching up to do. If he were to make the club out of spring training, I couldn't see a scenario in which he would make the club and be on the bench - or Ramos. One of those two guys has to play every day somewhere."

After the Nationals acquired Ramos from the Twins in a trade for closer Matt Capps, he spent a month at Class AAA Syracuse before being called up to the majors for good. He spent the final portion of the season splitting time every other day with Rodriguez, whom he grew up idolizing. Manager Jim Riggleman foresaw a similar arrangement for at least the start of 2011.

But now Flores is in the fold. Flores is currently playing winter ball in Venezuela. He was sidelined recently by a strained calf, but that was only a minor setback.

"This is an important winter for him, to kind of catch up on at-bats that he missed," Rizzo said. "But he's expected to be 100 percent, ready to go in spring training, back to his pre-surgery ability and ready to compete to make the club in '11."

Rizzo made clear that Flores, who became a young, potent starter before shoulder injuries derailed him early in 2009 and caused him to miss all of 2010, will remain behind the plate. "I'm sure he could play several positions," Rizzo said. "But his value is as a catcher. I'm not in a hurry to rush him to any position other than catcher."

As the year goes along, the playing-time crunch could be complicated by Rodriguez's stature and status. His offensive ability has clearly diminished, having accumulated a .296 on-base percentage since the start of 2007. After the all-star break this season, he hit .228/.255/.292 (average/on-base/slugging).

But he is still a skilled defensive catcher, and his leadership is relied upon. More pressing, he is sitting on 2,817 career hits, will surely want at-bats in order to become the first full-time catcher to ever reach 3,000 hits.

There is, of course, ample time for the Nationals to sort out their catching situation. And having one too many able catchers is one of the nicest things a team can have. It will also make for an interesting storyline come spring training and beyond.

By Adam Kilgore  | November 18, 2010; 6:53 PM ET
 
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Comments

In my mind, Pudge is still the #1-CA, and Flores or Ramos are playing for #2, with the loser going to SYR; That's a good thing.

Pudge might get reduced to 90+ starts in 2011, and injuries are always a concern; It will be a good thing to have a 'plus' catcher ready and available for a direct call-up, with another possible at HAR, rather than the replacement-level (or lower) players the team have been forced to use behind the plate in the past.

Posted by: BinM | November 18, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

>"I'm sure he could play several positions," Rizzo said. "But his value is as a catcher. I'm not in a hurry to rush him to any position other than catcher."

So trade Pudge while you can still get something for him - BEFORE the season starts.

Posted by: Brue | November 18, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Agreed that Rodriguez is #1, but if Ramos is still in the organization on opening day he should be on the 25 man roster and playing 3+ times per week.

Posted by: natbiscuits | November 18, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Wow! Brue! Thank goodness! I was thinking EVERYBODY was crazy out there. Of course! TRADE PUDGE NOW!
Start Ramos, with Nieves as back-up to start the season, if Flores performs, bring him up play BOTH Ramos and Flores, and let trade Nieves or if no takers, let him play at Syracuse and improve his hitting, and THEN trade him. Its C-R-A-Z-Y to keep Pudge at this point, even if Flores wasn't coming back. Trade Pudge NOW while you can still get something for him. And trade Willingham too, or at least trade him before he gets hurt on August 1st next year (he will).

Posted by: shred11 | November 18, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

What/whom do you think you could get for Pudge?

Posted by: stevie_in_gp | November 18, 2010 11:07 PM | Report abuse

I love me some Pudge, too -- and those numbers are a little deceptive, because he hit as well as anybody before he got hurt -- but, he's not gonna get his 3,000 hits next year anyway. The Nats should play the two best catchers, regardless of who that might be. I understand the inclination to give regular, full-time positions to both FLores and Ramos, but... If Flores is healthy and hitting, he'd be wasted at Syracuse. IF Ramos shows he's ready to hit major-league pitching, he'll be wasted at Syracuse, too. I"d rather see tehm platoon than see one of them spend an unnecessary year at AAA. Assuming that Rodriguez will start well and break down by June, I'd keep Flores around Washington, and bring up Ramos in the summer, dealing Rodriguez to a team that needs a veteran back-up.

Posted by: fischy | November 18, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

jesus flores is only healthy in the offseason.

boat it out

Posted by: CF11555 | November 19, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

The guy that is left out of the discussion is Norris, probably due for the majors by 2012 and probably the one with the best stick. I'm not sure Pudge has a tremendous amount of value in a trade but he's still one heckava catcher, certainly cabable of catching over 100 games in 2011. Ramos is an excellent defensive catcher with an unproven bat, but with potential. Flores is an average defensive catcher with some proven pop in his bat. One of these guys are expendable via a trade. My guess is that Ramos has the most value followed by Norris, then Flores. Norris needs at least another year in the minors, but both Ramos and a healthy Flores need to be in the majors.

Posted by: Jurgensen9 | November 19, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

>What/whom do you think you could get for Pudge?

Posted by: stevie_in_gp

A lot more in the offseason than you can after he starts firing up his league-leading DP ground balls. He's almost 40. They can pay half his salary, it'll be worth it.

Posted by: Brue | November 19, 2010 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Flores or Ramos will be in a trade package for a good arm, first baseman or outfielder. It'll likely be Flores.

Whoever stays will be starting catcher with Pudge doing 1/3 time as back-up

Posted by: nattydread1 | November 19, 2010 5:48 AM | Report abuse

Would like to keep Pudge, but to me, he looks like a catcher whose years have caught up with him. He came out of the gate on fire last year, remember? Then as the season wore on, his hitting melted away.

Trade him to a team that needs a mentor behind the plate, platoon Flores and Ramos.

Posted by: gilbertbp | November 19, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Trade Pudge to a team that needs a mentor behind the plate?

You mean like a team with a 23 year old prospect and a 26 year old coming back from injury trying to make up for lost time? If only we could find a team like that for Pudge...

Posted by: JohninMpls | November 19, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Maybe we can trade Pudge for Grenkie, then trade Flores for Prince Fielder and Willingham for Jason Upton.

You people are idiots.

This isnt playstation. You cant trade a 40 year old, overpaid catcher for anything before the season. We would be lucky if someone offered us a 35 year old A ball bullpen catcher for Pudge right now.

Posted by: LoJankFilDee19338333 | November 19, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Add Pudge's big contract to his stature and status as reasons he'll find the field.

I am guessing they shop Flores all over the place this winter. He was a Bowden Rule 5 pick, and Ramos is Rizzo's marquis trade booty to date (used to be Nyjer -- what a difference a year makes), so my money is on the younger, Rizzo-fingerprint covered Ramos coming up and playing about half of the games at C for the Nats in 2011. This would get Pudge enough AB's to keep him happy and potentially tradable should it come to that and the club can talk about developing Ramos the right way and Pudge's great mentoring value and all of that BS. But, one of these two younger guys is likey moved before Opening Day. Though Rizzo rarely meets a deal he likes so who knows.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 19, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

Maybe we can trade Pudge for Grenkie, then trade Flores for Prince Fielder and Willingham for Jason Upton.

You people are idiots.

This isnt playstation. You cant trade a 40 year old, overpaid catcher for anything before the season. We would be lucky if someone offered us a 35 year old A ball bullpen catcher for Pudge right now.

The only value Pudge has is to the Nationals - as a solid part time defensive catcher and leader/mentor in a young clubhouse.

Posted by: LoJankFilDee19338333 | November 19, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I guess I am alone in thinking, start JF in the AAA, Pudge and Ramos at 1/2 st. And when you think JF is back up to speed then you look to move Pudge to another team for whatever you can get and call up Flores.

Posted by: alex35332 | November 19, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

If you think Pudge isn't worth much now, how much do you think he'll be worth halfway through next season when his hitting totally falls off the cliff, batting .211, OPS below .600, with 18 GIDP?

At that point, you'll cut him loose and bring up Ramos or Flores from AAA to platoon. Or regret having gotten rid of one of them.

Posted by: gilbertbp | November 19, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

While I agree the NATS would not get anything for Pudge and the the NATS are the team who neeed a catcher/mentor, those who take the opposite take the opposite tack are not idiots. Lets tone down the name calling folks. Glad people have not forgotten about Norris. I see Norris, Ramos or Flores (after Spring Training before Opening Day?) traded for a pitcher. I would keep Norris as I believe has the most potential pop in the bat. A Pudge/Ramos or Flores battery improves the batting lineup imensely over last year. To the person mentioning Nieves, I believe he was DFA'ed (and rightly so) and chose free agency.
Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | November 19, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

While I agree the NATS would not get anything for Pudge and the the NATS are the team who neeed a catcher/mentor, those who take the opposite take the opposite tack are not idiots. Lets tone down the name calling folks. Glad people have not forgotten about Norris. I see Norris, Ramos or Flores (after Spring Training before Opening Day?) traded for a pitcher. I would keep Norris as I believe has the most potential pop in the bat. A Pudge/Ramos or Flores battery improves the batting lineup imensely over last year. To the person mentioning Nieves, I believe he was DFA'ed (and rightly so) and chose free agency.
Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | November 19, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

I stand corrected on Nieves. He is still on the 40 man roster. But (see Zuckerman) Rule 5 begins Saturday, and people have to be addeed/subtraced fro the 40 before it commences. I expect Nieves to be one of the subtractions.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | November 19, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

This is truly great news and it would have been a tragedy for his career to end. Now with Flores, Ramos and Derek Norris in the minors, the Nats are loaded with young catchers just like the Caps are swimming in young goaltenders.

Posted by: nativedc | November 19, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

how long till flores works out at 1B in light of the soon-to-be-inevitable departure of adam dunn? C to 1B is often a logical move, most recently made by all-star victor martinez.

Posted by: DCPowerGator | November 19, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Let Flores spend the first half of next year in AAA, then get what you can for Pudge at the trade deadline, (some team always needs an experience catcher at that point), and go with Flores and Ramos for the second half of the year.

Posted by: hapster | November 19, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Put Flores at 1st. Ramos has to be behind the dish. Has to

Posted by: MadmanDrummerBummer | November 19, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Flores will end up playing another position for the Nationals or will be traded.

My guess is he could be a candidate to play first base.

It's an open position and one that should not be hard for Flores to transition to.

With lesser responsibilities in the field at first, Flores should benefit at the plate and could be a guy that hits .300 and 20-25 home runs.

If he can field cleanly, that is enough for the Nationals to get out of a first baseman and be competitive.

Posted by: RoyHobbs4 | November 19, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

If Flores could duplicate what Victor Martinez has done, I'd take it. But he can't be the Nats Plan A for 1B.

And while I agree with the poster that Pudge doesn't have trade value, I wish folks could refrain from calling their fellow Nats fans here "idiots.''

Posted by: nats24 | November 19, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Hey Gang-Long time since I checked in...in print, at least. Still avidly following you all. Guess I'm still just....oh, despondent? Dismayed? Disgusted? with our short term prospects. Tired of waiting for the year that never arrives.
Best exemplified by an earlier comment about Pudge. We'll keep him because of his "Huge" contract....or something to that effect. Only in the Slows' alternate universe is 3 million a huge contract! And jeez-if Alderson ever gets the Mets straightened out...well, that's just another glum thought to add to my vision of my teams' competitive future.
Still-they're MY team! so....as always...
Go Nats!!!

Posted by: zendo | November 19, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

This is a non-problem - really. The Nats will start the season with Pudge and Ramos rotating behind the plate like they did in September. Playing time over the course of the season will be determined by level of play. Flores needs to prove that he IS healthy and can STAY healthy - he needs at least a couple of months at Syracuse as the regular catcher to do it. Norris slots in nicely at AA, ready to move up if openings are created by trades, injury or poor play.

Trading them only makes sense if you can solve a need in return; it's going to take more than one of these guys to get an impact player, but it still sets up nicely for the Nationals even if that doesn't happen.

Posted by: JCCfromDC | November 19, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Pudge's huge $3M contract? The Nats threw away more than last year on ex-Yankees Wang and Bruney... Oh this is the Lerners, that is a lot of coin...

Me, I'd keep them all until Spring training, and since 2011 is a rebuilding year, why not look to go with Flores and Ramos with the expectation of dumping Pudge at the end of March if Flores is healthy and Ramos doesn't flop.

Pudge is a sure fire Hall-of-Famer. But not for us. He didn't play any significant part of his career here; we owe him nothing more than his remaining $3M.

Posted by: comish4lif | November 19, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

"So trade Pudge while you can still get something for him - BEFORE the season starts."

Pudge's trade value is just about nil at this point. If he's able to stay healthy, and hit not too far below .250, he could bring in a fair prospect or two during the season if a contending team loses its regular backstop. He's going to be 39 a week from tomorrow, and there a real question as to whether he can hit anymore. Whatever power he had (never that great to begin with) is long gone, and from May 1 on, he hit .238 with 40 RBIs. Catchers tend to lose it all of a sudden, and Pudge would have to prove he can still play before anyone makes a deal for him.

Posted by: Fairfax6 | November 19, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Someone talked about moving Flores to 1B -- come on. The guy might hit nicely as a Catcher, but he has no place on the daimond at any other position. I find it kind of funny how there is sentiment in here from some people that first base fielding is so very important, but also that we can throw Willingham or Flores in there willy-nilly.

Anyway, there is ZERO chance the club simply waives Pudge and goes with two young guys. He will get significant playing time in DC, barring injury. The Nats want Pudge to get taht 3,000th hit -- they in effect paid to see it with the stupid $6M contract to the guy last year.

Posted by: dfh21 | November 19, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I hope Flores can be a solid backup to Ramos going forward. That would allow the Nats to use Derek Norris to headline a trade. I'm holding out hope that they make a run at Justin Upton. It could be a long shot, but i made a few interesting trade proposals for Upton centering around Norris, http://fanspeak.com/steveospeak/2010/11/18/nationals-need-to-go-all-in-for-justin-upton/

Let me know what you guys think!

Posted by: Steveo11 | November 19, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

"With lesser responsibilities in the field at first, Flores should benefit at the plate and could be a guy that hits .300 and 20-25 home runs."

There is nothing in his ML or high minor league stats that would lead you to believe he's capable of this.

He did hit 21 HRs in one season of A+ ball, but didn't come close to hitting .300.

At this point, you really shouldn't be counting on this guy to do anything, other than maybe become a useful utility player, and even that's a best case scenario.

Posted by: Fairfax6 | November 19, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

They are not going to move Flores to 1st base. He's a good stick for a catcher but not a number 4 hitting 1st baseman. I'm not sure why everyone is so down on Pudge. He's still the best defensive catcher out of the bunch at age 40 and he's in great shape. His salary is nothing. We've seen bits and pieces of Flores but he's been injured quite a bit and is nothing special behind the plate. I would have to think that Norris has a better upside. I can't see Flores bringing much in a trade.

Posted by: Jurgensen9 | November 19, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Its nice that we have some depth at the catcher position, but I would rather read a headline stating that Rizzo has a deal in place for Upton or Greinke. Until this team improves, trades are the only way they are going to garner premier talent without severely overpaying. Save for a core of 6-7 players the Nats need to do whatever it takes to get some game changing players in DC.

Posted by: KingJoffeJoffer | November 19, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

It's a great situation to be in, and I think it works out pretty well. You start the season with either Pudge/Ramos or Pudge/Flores in DC, with the odd man in AAA.

Then, assuming Norris continues his development and no one gets hurt...you trade either Pudge, Flores, or Ramos before the July deadline. Whichever one you can get the best deal for. And you play out 2011 with either Pudge/Flores, Pudge/Ramos, or Flores/Ramos in DC.

Come 2012, if Pudge is still on the team, you start the season with him platooning and an eye on bringing Norris up during the season. If you trade Pudge in mid-2011, you look at moving Norris, Flores, or Ramos in the 2011 offseason, or before the 2012 deadline, depending on the offers you get.

Either way, you end up with two long-term options at catcher, and move the other two guys for other pieces that you need. Of course there's a chance that Pudge winds up taking up space on the bench in 2012 as an overpaid pinch hitter, but if that's the worst thing that happens, you're coming out pretty well.

Posted by: js_edit | November 20, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

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