The all-star break allows for hindsight, an opportunity to think back to the offseason and what could have been based on what transpired over the first half. The Nationals could not have predicted Kurt Suzuki would wind up sitting in a ballroom Monday afternoon, perched on a dais among the rest of the American League all-stars. Not even Suzuki saw it coming.
But there he was, and so it’s both easy and fair to say it: In hindsight, the Nationals would have been better off bringing back Suzuki as their backup catcher rather than sacrificing Nate Karns for Jose Lobaton and two prospects. Suzuki said he would have welcomed the chance to return to the Nationals, but instead he signed a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Twins.
“I left all my options open,” Suzuki said. “Unfortunately, [signing with the Nationals] wasn’t one of the options. I respected that. I knew they had a great catcher in Wilson [Ramos]. He ended last year catching a lot of games. They figured he could catch, and rightfully so. That guy is super-talented. I respected their decision. I loved every minute of it there.”
The Nationals could have kept Karns, who has struggled in his year in the Rays’ system, if they had thrown about $3 million toward Suzuki. It’s easy to understand why they didn’t. Suzuki hit .232./.290/.337. But he rebounded in Minnesota, hitting .309/.365/.396 in the first half to make his first all-star team in his eighth season.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” Suzuki said. “I’m walking around here. You got Jeter, you got Jon Lester, you got Jose Bautista, all these great players walking around. And I’m saying, ‘I’m an all-star! I’m an all-star this year!’ It’s been real surreal. I’m just enjoying.”
Suzuki was beloved in the Nationals’ clubhouse for his effervescence and diligence, often the first player to arrive to prepare game plans with opposing pitchers. Suzuki scans the Nationals’ box score daily. He still texts with shortstop Ian Desmond. He already caught up with Tyler Clippard in Minnesota, and he was sorry to see Jordan Zimmermann, with whom he became tight, scratched because of a biceps strain.
In the winter, the Nationals needed a quality backup catcher behind Ramos because of his injury history. They settled on Lobaton, who cost them Karns and came with prospects Drew Vettleson and Felipe Rivero.
The Nationals’ fear came true when Ramos broke his hamate bone on Opening Day. Given the chance to become an everyday catcher, Lobaton has hit .204/.271/.289. Meantime, Karns is 6-5 with a 5.65 ERA at Class AAA Durham.
The Nationals first acquired Suzuki in early August 2012, and he became a key figure in their romp to a division title. They dealt him last August back to Oakland for minor league pitcher Dakota Bacus. Some within the Nationals believe his slider makes him a potential big leaguer, a right-hander who could develop into a reliever in the mold of Aaron Barrett.
The Nationals could have brought Suzuki back this winter and chose Lobaton instead. The decision has not worked out, but no one in Washington would be anything but elated for Suzuki. He smiled his way through answers with the media Monday afternoon, an all-star for the first time in a new home.
“I think it’s just prove to myself I’m still able to compete at this high level against all these great players,” Suzuki said. “Last couple years, I haven’t been going out there right way, and it hasn’t been too kind to me. But to be able to come back and prove to myself I’m still able to compete is definitely nice.”