9:04pm: The Angels have announced the signing.
12:20pm: The Angels are in agreement on a one-year, $1.5MM deal with free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic (Twitter link). The 37-year-old will reunite with Angels general manager Perry Minasian, who was part of the Braves’ front office when Suzuki played for Atlanta in 2018.
Catching was an obvious area of interest for the Angels, who previously carried only Max Stassi and Anthony Bemboom on the 40-man roster. They’ll now add a bat-first option with fourteen MLB seasons under his belt to the mix. Over the past three years, Suzuki has hit .268/.332/.453 in 826 plate appearances between Atlanta and the Nationals. That’s a bit better than league average offensive output generally, but is significantly better than average for a catcher.
Suzuki gives back some of that value defensively, where he’s never thrived as a thrower or pitch framer. Per Statcast, Suzuki has been 13 runs below-average as a framer over the past three seasons, while his 15.1% caught stealing rate in that time is one of the league’s worst marks. Nevertheless, his offense-first skill set pairs well with the Angels’ in-house catchers.
Stassi, the presumptive starter, has generally rated as a high-end defender but never hit much before last season’s small-sample offensive burst. Stassi’s also recovering from an October hip surgery that originally came with a four to six month recovery timetable, which could push manager Joe Maddon to lighten his workload early in the season.
Presumably, the Suzuki addition signals that Los Angeles will focus most of their attention this offseason on bolstering the pitching staff. Their uncertain catching mix made them on-paper fits for top free agent J.T. Realmuto and trade target Willson Contreras, but they’re likely out of the running for those players now. The same goes for second-tier free agent backstops like Yadier Molina, with whom the club was in contact early in the offseason. The Suzuki signing brings the Angels’ projected payroll to $164MM after accounting for forthcoming arbitration raises, per Roster Resource. That leaves a little wiggle room if owner Arte Moreno is willing to authorize a similar outlay to last year’s $177MM figure (before prorating).