“We think Wieters is going to be a bounceback candidate this year,” Rizzo said Monday. “He caught a lot of games for us last year. We’d like to curtail that a little bit. We love the upside of Severino. And fortunately, in our organization, we have a lot depth catcher-wise. [Prospect] Raudy Read is right around the corner and Sevy is showing us that he can handle a pitching staff defensively and has shown some flashes offensively of a guy that can be a great catcher for us.”
Rizzo and his new manager, Dave Martinez, have spoken about the need to use Wieters less often. He played in 123 games last season, and caught in 118 of them. But if the Nationals hope to reduce Wieters’s workload to somewhere around 100 games — and no one has thrown out that number — they will need a backup capable of playing every day. While Rizzo has voiced his support for Severino, who did start in the 2016 National League Division Series, people familiar with the Nationals’ thinking suggest that they are pursuing more experienced catching options to share duties with Wieters.
Veteran Alex Avila, a 30-year-old who most recently served as the Cubs’ backup during their 2017 playoff run, is one name the Nationals have discussed to fill that role, according to people familiar with their thinking. To the extent that this matters — and frankly, it might not — Martinez therefore has a preexisting relationship with Avila, who has stated publicly that he would be content to serve as a backup somewhere. Avila also worked with Max Scherzer during his Detroit years.
Avila is one of several proven backup types available in free agency this winter. Chris Ianetta came off the board without pursuit of the Nationals, but A.J. Ellis, Nick Hundley, Rene Rivera, Geovany Soto and even former Rizzo signee Miguel Montero, all remain available. Avila is not considered an elite pitch framer, but is one of the younger members of that crew and has proven himself capable of everyday-ready offensive production when healthy. If the Nationals are looking for someone to split time with Wieters, Avila provides a respected veteran who can manage a pitching staff and has played deep into October.
Lobaton was well-regarded by the Nationals’ pitching staff, which considered him a strong pitch framer and pleasant clubhouse presence. But he now enters free agency having hit .194 with a .594 OPS over the last two seasons, numbers that yield a negative WAR over that span. The Nationals will almost certainly look for an upgrade elsewhere. Lobaton hit .210 in 200 games over four seasons as a National, after being traded to D.C. from the Rays in the deal that brought Felipe Rivero, too.
For now, as Rizzo continues to say, Severino is in line to be the Nationals’ backup catcher. But that could change soon. The Nationals like the energetic 24-year-old. But they are likely to push for more proven help all the same.