It’s a common occurrence for contenders to go for the sure thing, rather than trust the youngster. When it comes to surety versus ceiling, surety often prevails with teams that already expect to win 90 games.
But what about with the teams all set to lose 90 games? When the Nationals signed Ivan Rodriguez, the thought was that he’d play 70-80 games, which would hardly make him a backup. Rodriguez thinks he has a shot to be the starter:
“Well I’m ready to play every day. We discussed that. I’m a player that can still play every day and I will play every day and basically do my best for the club. I know it’s hard for me to play 162 games; that’s impossible for a catcher. But as long as I’m healthy, feeling great physically, I’ll be in the field playing.”
GM Mike Rizzo viewed it as more of a job-sharing arrangement, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of Rodriguez starting more than half of the time. As he told the Washington Post:
“He’s a 14-time all-star. He’s a very prideful guy. And he thinks his skills are at their finest, and he might be right, you never know. Like I said at the beginning, he’s going to be a significant contributor to the ballclub. Now if that means 70 or 80 games or 70, 80, 90, 100 games, those are questions that will be answered throughout the course of the season. The best problem I could have all season is, ‘Who of these two hot catchers are we going to play on an everyday basis?'”
Rizzo said all of that right after pointing out that incumbent catcher Jesus Flores is due to be ready for the start of spring training after shoulder surgery. Flores, who arrived in Washington as a Rule 5 pick from the Mets, is 25 now, and he’s spent almost three seasons in the majors. If the Nationals hadn’t sent him down for a month early in 2008, he’d be halfway to free agency. In 574 at-bats, he’s hit .260/.313/.406 with 16 homers and 99 RBI, a very impressive total for someone who has frequently hit seventh and eighth for bad teams. He came in at .301/.377/.505 in the 29 games before he got hurt last season.
To sit down a healthy Flores now would be a terrible idea. He still has a ways to go defensively, particularly when it comes to blocking pitches, but he is learning. He’s thrown out 31 percent of would-be basestealers, and for what little it’s worth, his catcher’s ERA has been better than the Nationals’ mark as a whole during his career.
Rodriguez’s .269/.297/.401 line over the last three years is actually slightly worse than Flores’, and he’s barely toped Flores by throwing out 33 percent of basestealers. With his vast experience, he surely does a lot of the little things better than Flores. However, when it comes to the big things, Flores is the better bet for 2010. If he stays healthy, he should be starting two out of every three games. He’s the future behind the plate, and he’s the one the Nationals’ young pitchers need to learn to work with, not the mercenary who could be out of the league as soon as his contract is up.