The Washington Nationals should consider themselves fortunate for having secured the NL East's best catcher through 2009. The Nats agreed on a 4-year, $16 million contract extension with Northampton, Pa.-native Brian Schneider Tuesday.
The deal buys out his final two option years and his first two years of free agency. He gets $2.7 million this year, $3.5 million in 2007 and $4.9 million in each of the final two years.
His extension comes at a time when catchers are at a premium. The Phillies will need to address their own catcher position next season as Mike Lieberthal’s guaranteed contract mercifully expires.
Every GM in baseball, including Pat Gillick, is probably turning red with jealousy over this one, especially since one of the worst GMs in the game, Jim Bowden, pulled it off. It’s about $10 million cheaper than what lesser-commodity Ramon Hernandez cost Baltimore.
If the Nats’ offense wasn’t such a mess, fans might be in a better mood to celebrate. Schneider is an average offensive catcher but a fantastic defender and smooth handler of the pitching staff. Surprisingly, Bowden had considered signing free agent Bengie Molina, according to a Q&A on the team’s official Web site.
Then again, this is the same GM that locked in shortstop Cristian Guzman to a crippling four-year, $16.8 million deal, one that is almost single-handedly preventing the team from constructing a competitive offense. Playing in pitcher-friendly RFK, the Nationals were dead last in baseball in nearly all offensive categories last season, including runs scored, home runs and hits. Still, they managed to hold the NL East lead for a fair chunk of the season, almost exclusively because of Chad Cordero and their outstanding bullpen.
The team’s other deficiency is in center field, the second of two positions most likely to produce a good leadoff hitter, which is what their lineup needs most. No team could have used Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre more. Instead, they will be picking from three center field choices, including Ryan Church, Brandon Watson and former Phillie Marlon Byrd, and also give Guzman a second chance to earn his keep.
Bowden is hoping his trade for Alfonso Soriano will help in some way, shape or form. He would, if the two sides would ever come to terms in arbitration. The sides are reportedly $2 million away, and rumors persist that he will be flipped elsewhere.
Bowden is also reportedly interested in free agent Sammy Sosa, if only to batter the former slugger into retirement by teasing him inside vast RFK. It would be similar to watching a tomato shrivel up in the sun.
I would enjoy that.