Nats sign a veteran catcher; Hint: His last name ends in “o”


Yesterday, the Washington Nationals filled in depth at the catcher position with their acquisition of veteran Miguel Montero (not J.T. Realmuto).  In this stagnant market, Mike Rizzo was able to get Montero on an incentives-laden Minor League deal with an opt-out and an invite to Spring Training.  You can expect that the incumbent Pedro Severino will compete with Montero for the back-up spot behind Matt Wieters, and we would expect Montero to be the frontrunner right now on the depth chart for the coveted spot. Mike Rizzo could also still really shake all of the plans up if he is able to acquire a long-term solution with Realmuto.

“We wanted to get another veteran catcher,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said last night at the Washington Auto Show. “We have a veteran pitching staff. [Miguel Montero] calls great games. He is astute to all the analytics, [and he is] a great guy to have around. He really is. He’s a funny guy, very high-spirited, very competitive and loves to win.”

Montero who turns 35-years-old in July earned $14 million last year, and his package this year has a base salary of only $1.3 million if he makes the MLB roster. His deal we were told from sources includes an incentives bonus for an additional $1.7 million if he appears in 100 games for a total package of $3 million.

We reported a few days ago that we had heard the Nationals were trying to get a veteran catcher and were looking at Ryan Hanigan. Both catchers were mentioned in our listing of who the Nationals could look at in the market. The fact they were able to get Montero on a team-friendly Minor’s deal is another win-win for Mike Rizzo who has added some much needed depth.

In a twist of irony, it was the Washington Nationals running game, and Trea Turner in particular, that set into motion Montero getting released in the middle of the 2017 season from the Cubs after Montero complained that the Nationals were stealing bases “left and right” (in actuality left) due to his pitcher, Jake Arrieta, did not do a good job of holding runners on. In total during that June 27th game, the Nats swiped a 1/2 dozen seven bases with Trea Turner taking 4 bags. Montero was released the next day, and then a trade was worked out with the Blue Jays.

“It really sucked because the stolen bases go to me, and when you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time,” Montero said after the June 27th game. “So it’s just like, ‘Yeah ok, Miggy can’t throw nobody out,’ but my pitcher doesn’t hold anybody on. …

“That’s the reason why they were running left and right today because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”

In another cruel twist, Turner would steal two more bases in the next two games off of Willson Contreras, and then Cubs reliever, Pedro Strop, came up and in on a pitch to Turner and fractured his wrist. You can expect some water cooler conversations about that when Montero and Turner see each other in West Palm Beach later this month.

Montero’s season took a nosedive after he was traded to the Blue Jays. He had a strong slash with the Cubs at  .286/.366/.439/.805, and fell apart with the Blue Jays only getting 101 plate appearances while hitting just .138/.248/.241/.489 for the remainder of 2017 and putting enough doubt in general manager’s minds that Montero was not worth a Major’s deal this year when he hit free agency.

What happened to Montero at the plate with the Blue Jays? Is he a defensive liability? Those questions need to be answered. This is the same catcher who led the NL in “caught stealing” with a 40% rate in 2011 and bettered that in 2012 at 42%. The Cubs staff is notorious for holding on runners with Jon Lester the main culprit and Jake Arrieta not too far behind him. Last year in total, Montero was charged with an 8% caught-stealing-rate which was the worst in the Majors.  Montero, according to FanGraphs, was the second worst defensive catcher in all of baseball last year only ranking in front of Stephen Vogt. Catcher’s stats are very subjective because of the pitching staff, and the Washington Nationals evaluators must make sure Montero’s Cubs tenure defensively was not indicative of what Montero can do this season.

We saw some incredible twists and turns last season with the catcher’s position as the Nationals traded for Derek Norris who was later released in Spring Training costing the Nationals a big chunk of his salary. After Spring Training started, the Nationals also signed Matt Wieters to a free agent deal that looked like a major overpay — and it was. Instead of the Nationals upgrading in 2017 at the position, they finished at the worst in the Majors at a combined -1.1 WAR at the position.

While Mike Rizzo has almost promised the fans (and he is probably right) that Matt Wieters will be a bounceback candidate in 2018, there is no getting around the disaster at the catching position that was on display in the NLDS in Game 5. When Wieters was involved with a passed ball play that will go down in the history books of Nationals failures, it was back-up Jose Lobaton who was picked-off of 1st base to snuff out a Nats 8th inning rally in the decisive game.

We knew how you felt Miggy at that point on October 12th. Who was Miggy Montero rooting for that night? It had to be the Nationals.

The 2018 Washington Nationals catchers have to improve over the 2017 production — right? We are still on J.T. Realmuto watch, why not — right?

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