Flores Deserves To Keep Lineup Spot

So what if the plans were to keep Jesus Flores in the minors all season long? He's shown that he's the best option behind the plate for the Nationals.

With injuries to Johnny Estrada and Paul Lo Duca leaving the Nationals searching for catchers, Jesus Flores was summoned back to the majors; a place where the Nationals didn't expect him to be this season. Last season, he had to be here, so the Nationals could keep him in the organization after picking him up in the Rule 5 Draft from the New York Mets. This season though was supposed to be one where he could get back to playing every day in the minors and then compete for a job with the big league club next Spring, but injuries forced a change in plans and everybody appears glad that they did.

Flores has filled in well, not only handling pitchers with the skill that everybody in the organization knew that he had, but he has shown offensive skills that nobody expected. Since joining the Nationals on May 9, Flores is hitting .305 with 3 home runs and 22 RBI. He also started the season on the Major League roster thanks to an injury that had Estrada sidelined to start the season. In a short span, Flores went 4-for-11 (.364) with 1 home run and 3 RBI in what might have been a hint at what he would have been able to do for the club had they not buried him behind the two veteran catchers. When you consider that Estrada and Lo Duca have combined for just 89 at bats this season and are hitting a lowly .191 with zero home runs and four RBI between them, Flores has been, by far, the most productive of the options. Veteran backup Wil Nieves (1-10-.284) has done a nice job as a backup to Flores and also deserves to stick with the big league club once Estrada and/or Lo Duca come off the DL.

Lo Duca will come off the DL this week, but won't return to the starting job as manager Manny Acta has already said that Flores will keep that title. Acta also said that the club will carry three catchers temporarily, leaving Nieves and Lo Duca to come off the bench. While Lo Duca's contract (one-year, $5 million) and his offensive stats (0-4-.200) won't make him an easy chip to trade, the Nationals should consider eating a big chunk of his contract in order to ship him to a club that might be looking for a veteran backstop. His signing was ill-conceived, and the Nationals will only hurt themselves further if they continue to keep him on the roster and get nothing in return. A deal to get at least one decent prospect from another club might be possible if the Nationals do eat a big portion of the money and don't get greedy in what they would get in exchange.

As for Estrada, there is no definite plan for when he returns, but he was clearly much more damaged than the Nationals thought when they signed him and as with Lo Duca, there is no value in compounding the mistake by keeping him around unless he would be willing to accept a much diminished role.

At just 23 years of age, Flores is possibly the best catching prospect in the majors right now. There have been some doubts about just how much offense he would generate, but his defense is so good, that anything above the basic numbers that everybody thought he would provide at the plate, is just pure gravy. Nieves is experienced enough to give some needed guidance at spots and a day off when and where necessary. In hindsight, the $6.25 million that the Nationals spent to sign Estrada and Lo Duca was not at all well spent and could have been put to much better use to add some needed pitching. Heck, they would have been better off throwing that money at draft picks to get them signed and onto short-season rosters or rolling the money into long-term deals for guys like Ryan Zimmerman. Flores is one of the young studs that this team can build around and is a key component since he has the ability to help young pitchers develop to their fullest thanks to his skills at calling games and working with pitchers. Plus, he has let the Nationals know that they now don't have to spend big bucks to sign veteran catchers who aren't capable of providing much in return.

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