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HINGTON -- The Nationals got the veteran catcher they wanted Friday, completing a trade to acquire Kurt Suzuki from the A's.
Washington gave up Minor League catcher David Freitas in exchange for Suzuki and cash considerations. Nationals manager Davey Johnson said Suzuki will immediately become the club's starting catcher, with Jesus Flores becoming the backup. The assumption is that Sandy Leon will be optioned upon Suzuki's arrival, which should come before Saturday's game against the Marlins.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Nats designated catcher Carlos Maldonado for assignment.
"He's one of the best catch-throw defensive catchers in the game," said general manager Mike Rizzo, who scouted Suzuki out of Cal State Fullerton. "We feel that his upside with the bat is going to be good. He's hot right now. He hit very well in July, so we think we're getting a hot hitter that can handle the staff and a guy who's in the Gold Glove conversation each and every year he's been a Major Leaguer."
"When Mike brought it up to me that Oakland would move Suzuki, I said, 'Man, that would definitely bolster our catching corps,'" added Johnson, who managed Suzuki during the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics.
Suzuki leads American League catchers in fielding percentage (.996), runners caught stealing (23) and caught-stealing percentage (38.3). Rizzo spoke highly of Suzuki's ability to handle a pitching staff and call games from behind the plate, a particularly important consideration with the Nationals' young, talented pitching staff.
"He's a guy that can really, really take that rotation and get it going even better than it already is," Rizzo said. "He's caught a lot of really good staffs. He's got a great baseball IQ. He's known in the industry as a great game-caller, a great defensive guy and handler of the staff."
Suzuki has put up the worst offensive numbers of his career this season, batting .218 with a .536 OPS in 75 games for the A's, but Rizzo attributed some of that to his reduced role. Suzuki is a career .254/.311/.378 hitter, and as Rizzo noted, he hit .273 in limited time in July.
With injuries to catcher Wilson Ramos and Jhonathan Solano, Washington had more reason to go out and find a catcher. Flores was batting just .225 with a .586 OPS, while Leon had to bypass Triple-A and make the jump straight from Double-A Harrisburg to the Majors.
Johnson has praised all his catchers for filling in as well as they have this season, but there was an obvious need for a more steady presence behind the plate as the Nationals head down the stretch and potentially into the postseason.
"Our catching corps has been outstanding," Johnson said. "But a lot of that is young players. Solano, he's hurt. Sandy Leon came out of Double-A. They've both done great jobs up here. ... Flo is probably his own worst enemy because he's not doing the things he knows he's really capable of doing, and we'll see how that plays out."
When Ramos returns next spring, Suzuki will likely become his backup. Rizzo was not at all concerned about the idea of having both on the active roster next year.
"It says that we're going to have two pretty darn good catchers when Ramos gets healthy in Spring Training," Rizzo said. "We'll have a veteran presence behind a good, young player."
Freitas, a 15th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, was hitting .271 with a .708 OPS at Class A Advanced Potomac. Johnson said the Nats were high on the 23-year-old backstop, but their system is still loaded with potential options at the position.
"Freitas is a good young catcher," Rizzo said. "We traded from our depth. We have great depth at the catching position, and we felt that was the one place that we could go down in the Minor Leagues and make a deal."