The Washington Nationals added a new name to their catching conglomerate Thursday by signing veteran Miguel Montero to a minor league deal that includes an invitation to major league spring training. He will compete with 24-year-old Pedro Severino for the backup catcher job, a more important role for the Nationals this year than it has been in recent seasons. General Manager Mike Rizzo and new Manager Dave Martinez have stated a desire to use Matt Wieters less frequently than the 123 games he caught last season, meaning whoever is his backup will play more often than most recent Nationals backups have.
Montero split last season between the Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays, though his Chicago tenure came to its unceremonious end after the Nationals’ Trea Turner stole seven bases against him and the Cubs over four games — and Montero told Chicago reporters that his pitchers were the problem. The Cubs released Montero after that series, and the Blue Jays picked him up. Montero, a left-handed hitter, combined to hit .286 in 44 games with the Cubs before struggling with Toronto. Turner exploited what is widely known to be a weak throwing arm, but the Nationals hold Montero’s pitch framing in high regard. Severino actually finished last season with a better pitch-framing rating than Montero, according to StatCorner, but he did so over a smaller sample size.
Rizzo signed Montero out of Venezuela when he was the scouting director of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Martinez was the bench coach for Montero’s entire 2 1/2-year tenure with the Cubs, and he gave Rizzo positive feedback. Both of them are well-versed in Montero’s tendency to speak his mind — a tendency that rubbed some Cubs teammates the wrong way. All-star first baseman Anthony Rizzo called Montero “a selfish player” after Montero jabbed at Jake Arrieta’s inability to hold runners. Montero’s Cubs tenure did not survive the controversy.
The addition of Montero does not preclude the Nationals from continued inquiries into Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, though Miami’s asking price has been too high to this point. The Nationals will not part with top prospect Victor Robles in any deal for Realmuto.
Should the Nationals begin spring training with their current roster, Wieters will be the starter, leaving Severino and Montero to battle for the backup role. Though Montero’s experience matches the experience-laden Nationals’ clubhouse, the Nationals see promise in Severino’s energy and speed, which is good for a catcher and provides better late-game maneuverability. But calculations like those are normally more important in October than February. Barring another outside acquisition, Severino will likely need a strong offensive spring to secure the backup role.