Why Kurt Suzuki isn’t a post-James McCann consolation prize for Angels
Kurt Suzuki is not the type of catcher who will regularly steal strikes on the edges of the zone, saving his pitchers a few extra throws a night. He is not the young backstop who will block an errant pitch and, on the same play, heroically throw out a runner on the basepaths.
Yet, he might be the right fit for the Angels in 2021.
Suzuki, 37, signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal to become the Angels’ backup catcher last week, roughly a month after the team narrowly missed adding free-agent James McCann. He is seven years younger than Suzuki and considered a better “framer,” according to advanced statistics. McCann is spry enough to play nearly every day, meaning he could have provided a consistent boost to an Angels lineup that last season ranked ninth in MLB in runs (294).
But Suzuki, a native of Hawaii and 2004 product of Cal State Fullerton, isn’t a consolation prize. The veteran has been heralded for his game-calling and defense throughout his 14-year career. The Angels’ starting rotation — which last season produced a ghastly 5.52 ERA, the second-highest mark in baseball — could stand to benefit from throwing to the catcher whom Max Scherzer, one of the sport’s most dominant pitchers, called “hands-down, one of the best catchers I’ve ever thrown to.”
The Angels reached agreement with free-agent left-hander José Quintana on a one-year, $8-million deal on Tuesday, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said. Quintana has made more than 30 starts seven times in nine seasons.
“I think that, without running me into the ground, I can help the team,” Suzuki said Thursday in a videoconference. “I feel like I’m at this stage in my career, even if I’m older, I feel like I got a lot left in the tank to help the team win.”
The impact Suzuki could have on the Angels’ pitching staff intrigued first-year general manager Perry Minasian. The two crossed paths with the Atlanta Braves in 2018, when Minasian was in his first year as the team’s assistant GM and Suzuki was in the final season of a two-year contract. Minasian came away impressed by Suzuki’s ability to manage and inspire pitchers.
Suzuki was equally impressed by Minasian, whom he credited for advancements in the analytics department that helped the Braves go from a 72-90 record in 2017 to a division title the following season.
Familiarity, as well the opportunity to live at his permanent home in Redondo Beach with his wife and three school-aged children, made Suzuki comfortable signing with the Angels for a lower price than other teams were offering.
Accepting a reduced role and drastically cut paycheck didn’t faze Suzuki. At this stage of his career, the prospect of catching 130 games a year — which he did as recently as 2014 and 2015 — does not appeal to him.
Angels starters Andrew Heaney and Dylan Bundy avoided arbitration by agreeing to one-year deals, but Shohei Ohtani has not come to terms.
Other teams offered Suzuki a starting role. The Angels proposed to deploy Suzuki behind the plate two to three times a week, with Max Stassi getting most of the other starts once he has fully recovered from hip surgery he had in October.
Suzuki figures that should be just enough playing time for him to leave a mark on Angels pitchers.
“They’re great as it is right now and I feel like they can become better,” Suzuki said. “I love to be a part of the [careers of] young pitchers that have a lot of potential and see if I can help them out any way possible to potentially get better. If it’s just one thing, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
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