The Oakland A’s have a vacancy behind home plate, as starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy is a free agent this winter. One player they’ve talked to about that job is Kurt Suzuki, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
A’s fans are already familiar with Suzuki, who was drafted by Oakland in 2004 and spent about half his career here in two separate stints. Most recently, he played three years in Minnesota, where he earned an All-Star berth, and then two more in Atlanta including a trip to the NLDS this season.
Suzuki’s bat never quite developed into a plus in the green and gold, but it got better after he left. He was particularly potent in Atlanta, posting a career-high 127 wRC+ and 19 homers in 2017. He was still comfortably above-average this summer at age 34:
Suzuki, 2018 ATL: .271/.332/.444, 108 wRC+, 12 HR, 5.7% BB, 11.1% Ks
However, the numbers don’t like him as much on the other side of the ball. He’s one of the worst in the majors at throwing out basestealers, and out of 117 MLB catchers last year he ranked 105th according to Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA defensive metric and 107th according to Defensive Runs Saved. Even with the caveat that catching is the most difficult position to slap a statistical measure on, those marks can’t be ignored.
On the other hand, Suzuki does have strengths behind the plate. He’s particularly athletic for a backstop, helping him allow fewer passed balls than just about anyone else in the sport. He also excels in unquantifiable areas like pitch-calling, working with the staff, and being a generally great dude, all things that you want in both a catcher and a potential veteran leader — like Lucroy was this year.
Slusser notes that Suzuki could be looking for a multi-year deal, and opines that the A’s may not be willing to go past a one-year commitment since top prospect Sean Murphy is nearing readiness.
If Suzuki does end up in Oakland, then he’ll be the next in a long line of former favorites who have rejoined the club the last couple years. In 2017 it was Rajai Davis, Adam Rosales, and Santiago Casilla, and then this summer it was Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. They also reacquired Jed Lowrie in 2016 after one season away.
Suzuki is on my short list of ideal options, so this rumor is good news. My criteria, in this order: it has to be a one-year contract, I’d like to focus on defense, and a lefty hitter would be neat to help balance out the lineup. Unfortunately, all my top picks are righties, so that consideration is out the window, and most of them also grade out as bad defenders, so, oh well. I’m mostly looking for a one-year stopgap, then.
The names that most catch my eye (in no particular order) are Lucroy, Suzuki, Martin Maldonado, and Robinson Chirinos. Perhaps there are others that I’d like upon closer inspection, but those are the ones that jump out at me on first glance. Maldonado is probably my favorite, because he’s the best defender on the list and he hits about 80% of his homers against us (just kidding, it’s “only” 22% the last two years, 5-of-23). But I would be satisfied with any of them, and Suzuki would be the most fun because he’s already a massive fan favorite here. Also, every time he comes back, my Suzuki jersey becomes relevant again.
Stay tuned to see how this rumor shakes out, and who ends up in the A’s catching gear!