The Nationals announced Wednesday morning the signing of catcher Koyie Hill to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training. Hill, 34, who has spent parts of 10 seasons in the major leagues, adds yet another backup catcher depth to the organization. The team is hopeful that oft-injured Wilson Ramos will remain healthy in 2014 but in their search for backup catchers have added players only on minor league deals.
General Manager Mike Rizzo is at the point in the offseason where he is searching for undervalued players that can be acquired at a bargain, but he has said he is comfortable with backup catcher options Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and Chris Snyder, who was signed earlier this winter to a minor league deal. In addition to those three, Hill and Jeff Howell, another player on a minor league deal invited to big league camp, could also be in the mix and protection against injuries.
Hill has struggled to hit in the majors but is added at minimal risk. He played 18 games for the Marlins in 2013 and posted a .373 OPS. The previous year he posted a .385 OPS in 11 games for the Chicago Cubs. His OPS+ is those seasons was 3 and 4, respectively. In 1,027 combined major league plate appearances with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Marlins, Hill has a career .553 OPS and 46 OPS+. Hill played 47 games for the Diamondbacks from 2004 to 2005, overlapping with Rizzo, who was the team’s scouting director then. Hill played 31 games for the Class AAA Syracuse in 2012 and posted a .457 OPS.
Hill is the 20th player to receive a non-roster invitation to major league camp. Brian Jeroloman is another minor league catcher who will be in big league spring training.
The Nationals could also still pull off a trade for a potential backup catcher fit. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays are considering trading backup catcher Jose Lobaton after re-signing Jose Molina in the offseason and trading with Cincinnati for Ryan Hanigan, who they then handed a three-year extension. Lobaton, 29, was eligible for arbitration as a Super 2 player this offseason and agreed to a $900,000 deal. Lobaton, a switch hitter, played in 100 games for the Rays last season and posted a .714 OPS with seven home runs. According to Jim Bowden, the Nationals former general manager and ESPN analyst, the Nationals have interest in Lobaton.