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Nationals acquire catcher Yan Gomes in trade with Indians

Yan Gomes hit 16 homers and drove in 48 runs while batting .266 in 112 games for the Indians in 2018. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

The Washington Nationals acquired all-star catcher Yan Gomes in a trade with the Cleveland Indians, the team announced Friday night. The Nationals will send the Indians right-handed pitcher Jefry Rodriguez, outfield prospect Daniel Johnson and a player to be named as they continue to be one of the most aggressive teams of the baseball offseason.

The addition of Gomes gives the Nationals a formidable catching duo, as the 31-year-old joins newly acquired Kurt Suzuki. The Nationals signed Suzuki to a two-year, $10 million contract earlier in November, and it was unclear then what Suzuki’s role would be on a team that got little offense from its catchers in 2018. Now it is expected that he and Suzuki will split starting duties and give the Nationals needed offensive production from that position.

The 25-year-old Rodriguez made eight starts and posted a 5.71 ERA for the Nationals in 2018. He also came out of the bullpen toward the end of the season, mostly because his innings count was much higher than the Nationals expected, and flashed potential with a high-90s fastball and sharp breaking ball. The Nationals don’t have a ton of pitching depth at the moment, as they shop for a front-line starter in the free agent market, and Rodriguez’s departure puts a higher emphasis on Joe Ross and Erick Fedde proving themselves as back-of-the-rotation arms.

Johnson, 23, was drafted by the Nationals in the fifth round of the 2016 draft and spent almost all of 2018 with the Class AA Harrisburg Senators. He hit .267 with six home runs, seven triples, 31 RBI and 21 steals in 89 games with the Senators and has been pegged as a strong outfielder with good speed on the base paths. The Nationals' current logjam in the outfield — with budding young stars in Juan Soto and Victor Robles, veteran Adam Eaton, a strong fourth option in Michael A. Taylor and possibly Bryce Harper if the star’s free agency leads him back to Washington — makes Johnson a logical piece in the return for Gomes.

Gomes’s current contract will pay him $7.8 million in 2019 with club options for 2020 ($9 million with a $1 million buyout) and 2021 ($11 million with a $1 million buyout). Gomes made 111 starts at catcher for the Indians in 2018, hitting 16 home runs to go with 48 RBI while posting a .266 batting average and .762 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He hit a career-high 21 home runs in 2014, his most productive season, and has maintained his power into the back half of his career.

Couple that with Suzuki’s continued offensive success at 35 — a .271 average, 12 home runs and 50 RBI in 105 games last season — and the Nationals have made major upgrades behind the plate. Suzuki will be paid $4 million in 2019; between the two catchers, the Nationals will spend about $12 million for the upcoming season. Matt Wieters made $10.5 million last season and, hampered by injuries, finished with a .238 average and eight home runs in 76 games.

The catching position gave the Nationals 12 home runs and 55 RBI in 622 plate appearances last season. Gomes, in his seventh major league season, hit four more home runs and drove in just seven fewer runs in 435 plate appearances. Suzuki, in his 12th year, had the same number of homers and only five fewer RBI in 388 plate appearances.

The Nationals have not wasted any time this offseason, one that could see Harper depart in free agency and leave a sizable offensive void to fill. They started by padding their bullpen by trading for Kyle Barraclough and then signing former all-star closer Trevor Rosenthal. They have also already asserted themselves into conversations regarding Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Nathan Eovaldi, the three top starting pitchers on the market, and may have strengthened their appeal given Gomes’s reputation as a strong pitch framer.

The Gomes deal allows the Nationals to fully shift their attention to their remaining offseason objectives: signing or trading for a premier starter, assessing where they stand in the Harper sweepstakes, exploring another bullpen option and adding a left-handed-hitting first baseman, possibly among other pieces, to their bench. The catcher spot, after slowing the Nationals throughout a disappointing 82-80 season, won’t be a worry for the foreseeable future.

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