Royals improve catching depth, ink Nola to 1-year deal

February 23rd, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. – The Royals have improved their catching depth, signing catcher to a one-year deal on Friday. Per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Nola, 34, was released by the Brewers on Thursday to make room for Gary Sánchez, and the Royals moved quickly to bring in the veteran receiver. Nola has four years of service time, so he would still be under team control through 2025 and does have one option remaining, which is important, as the Royals see Freddy Fermin as their backup catcher to Salvador Perez.

“What Freddy did last year speaks for itself,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “We’re very confident in Freddy’s abilities. I would expect he’ll break with the club. … I don’t want to say there’s not competition, because there is. Having catchers that have options really helps us throughout the entire season. We’re really happy with Freddy, who’s just starting what should be a good career for him.”

In a corresponding move, left-handed pitcher Kris Bubic was placed on the 60-day injured list.

Nola was on a Minor League deal with a non-roster invite to Spring Training with the Brewers, and the Royals had explored a deal with him before he went to the Brewers. But when he became available, the Royals knew they could easily open a 40-man spot with Bubic recovering from Tommy John surgery, leading to the quick deal with Nola.

“It’s been pretty quick,” Nola said. “But I’m definitely excited to be here in Royal blue. It’s been a dream. … [I’ll] show up every day, do my job, help these pitchers get through innings. And hopefully win. That’s what we’re all here for, is to win.”

Nola doesn’t bring much impact with his bat, especially following an injury-riddled year in which he slashed .146/.260/.192 in 52 games with the Padres, but he has a good reputation as a backstop, and would give the Royals another veteran voice to pair with Perez as they guide the pitching staff. Nola said he’s healthy entering Spring Training this year after he dealt with post-concussion symptoms for most of 2023.

A fifth-round pick by the Marlins in the 2012 Draft out of Louisiana State, Nola has a career .696 OPS across five seasons, two with Seattle and four with San Diego. He helped the Padres to the National League Championship Series in 2022, when he played a career-high 110 regular season games.

The Royals lack experienced catching depth at the upper levels of the Minors, and the addition of Nola helps that area. Fermin entered camp as the incumbent backup, but last season was his first full year at the Major League level. He receives high marks for his defense, and the Royals still see him as their backup. The Royals won’t rule out carrying three catchers on the roster, but it seems unlikely especially with outfielder MJ Melendez as an emergency option.

Before Nola, there weren’t any catchers on the 40-man roster behind Fermin on the depth chart. Logan Porter, Tyler Cropley, Sandy León and Rodolfo Durán are all in big league camp as non-roster invitees, as well as prospect Carter Jensen and Luca Tresh, both of whom will be in the Minor Leagues this year.

At the end of last year, the Royals had Perez and Fermin on the IL at one point. Porter and Cropley were their catchers, and while they both did a good job, the Royals wanted more experience with Nola.

“What we went through last year was tough,” Picollo said. “To get somebody that has that much experience behind the plate was a bonus for us.”