As his two-year, $6 million contract is coming to an end, Ivan Rodriguez wants to play for the Nationals next season. Rodriguez has maintained all year he wants to finish out his career in Washington, and he reiterated that desire last week. “I would love to play here,” he said.
The Nationals and Rodriguez haven’t yet discussed next season, Rodriguez said, but there are certainly reasons why the Nationals would benefit having him around again. His offense may have continued to decline as Rodriguez adapted to playing every third day – he hit .214/.276/.325 before succumbing to a right oblique strain in mid-July. But Rodriguez remains valuable in other ways.
“I think Pudge brings so much to a team,” said Scott Boras, Rodriguez’s agent. “He and [Stephen Strasburg] have a very good relationship. Pudge has answers, because he’s been in the league so long. And his answers are very, very refined and simple to a lot of players. He can go up to a lot of players and say, ‘Look, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. Do this, do that. If you do this, this is what happens.’ And the players believe it, because he’s been in the league that long. I think there’s tremendous value. I see pitchers - great young arms - come into the big leagues, and it’s so difficult to develop them if there’s not a veteran catcher, or if there’s not a veteran No. 1 starter on the team.”
Boras mentioned Baltimore specifically, with its stable of young arms unable to find traction in the majors, as a team lacking that kind of veteran. In many cases, keeping a veteran around for reasons pertaining to “presence” or “experience” is ill-advised. But with a backup catcher, it’s different. There are no backup catchers routinely tearing the cover off the ball; any offense out of the position is a bonus, so Rodriguez’s diminished offensive make him basically league average at his position.
And Rodriguez has shown he is still defensive catcher. Nationals pitchers feel confident throwing to him, and his arm remains a gift from God. He has an impeccable ability to handle tough throws and tag plays at the plate, which, as Wilson Ramos’s struggles have shown, is something of an art.
On his skills alone, Rodriguez is a viable defensive catcher. Everything else brings just enhances his case. Rodriguez has exhibited grace and class in handling his transition from everyday catcher to backup. That matters in a clubhouse – if one of the greatest catchers of all time can check his ego, then so can everybody else. He’s also helped the development of Ramos, who, remember, is still only 24.
Rodriguez’s oblique strain has lingered not because he’s not still in shape, but because he’s been pushing the injury too hard. “I told all the young players, ‘You want to know the attitude to have? Look at that,’ ” Boras said. “He can’t wait to play, and he’s 40. He can’t wait to get out there.”
Catcher is probably the Nationals’ deepest position throughout their system. Manager Davey Johnson has repeatedly said it’s the best collection of catchers in one system he has been a part of. Keeping Rodriguez may require trading Jesus Flores and relying on a minor leaguer if one of their catchers goes on the disabled list. (Flores would not react well to another year in Class AAA.) Jhonatan Solano’s improvement as Class AAA Syracuse has grabbed the attention of many Nationals officials. He’s gone from a spare part in the system to a potential major league backup.
The Nationals would have to consider all of that when they make a decision on Rodriguez. Ultimately, Rodriguez offers enough to a team to make bringing him back the best option.
FROM THE POST
Boz is convinced Stephen Strasburg is back after watching him Monday night.
Jordan Zimmermann still needs to finish off his starts, as the Nationals’ 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks showed.
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 4, Pawtucket 2: Brad Peacock allowed two runs in five innings on four hits and two walks, striking out three. Garrett Mock pitched 2 1/3 perfect relief innings, striking out two. Stephen Lombardozzi went 2 for 3 with a walk.
Harrisburg 4, Portland 1: Danny Rosenbaum allowed one run in seven innings on four hits and a walk, striking out eight. Adam Fox went 2 for 3 with a home run.
Potomac 11, Wilmington 1: Sammy Solis allowed one run in four innings on four hits and no walks, striking out six. Josh Smoker pitched one perfect relief inning, striking out one and lowering his ERA to 1.52. Jeff Kobernus went 4 for 6 with a double.
Hagerstown 13, Hickory 8: Adrian Nieto went 2 for 3 with a double, a home run and two walks. Justino Cuevas went 3 for 4 with two doubles.
Mahoning Valley 7, Auburn 6: Caleb Ramsey went 2 for 5 with a double and a home run.