After a frantic week of rumors connecting them to Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, the Mets added a backstop—just not Miami's prized possession. On Sunday, news broke that New York would be adding veteran free agent Wilson Ramos on a two-year, $19 million deal with a $10 million team option for 2021 according to James Wagner of The New York Times. It’s a sensible signing for a Mets team apparently serious about contention, and a welcome indicator that New York won’t sit out free agency or, as in years past, stick to re-signing washed-up veterans on the cheap.
In an era of increased offensive futility from catchers, Ramos stands out as one of the best. In 416 plate appearances split between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia last year, the 31-year-old Venezuelan hit .306/.358/.487 with 15 homers and a 130 OPS+, earning an All-Star nod. Among all regular backstops with 400 or more plate appearances last year, that OPS+ figure was second only to Realmuto (and barely, at 131). By bWAR, meanwhile, Ramos finished the year fifth at 2.7, trailing Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, Buster Posey and Willson Contreras. He’s an impact bat at a spot where you rarely find one anymore.
At the plate, Ramos is a star. Behind it, he’s thoroughly average, grading out around neutral by Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average, which takes into account pitch framing, blocking, and throwing. But you could do a lot worse than that, and Ramos has put up more positive numbers in the past. On top of that, the catchers he’ll be replacing in New York—the duo of Kevin Plawecki and Devin Mesoraco—were decidedly shoddy on defense, both ranking in the negative by FRAA last year. (As always, please take single-season defensive stats, particularly those of catchers, with a mountain-sized grain of salt.)
Health, meanwhile, has been an issue for Ramos the last two seasons. He appeared in just 111 games in 2018 because of a left hamstring strain and lost the first half of the ’17 season to a torn ACL suffered at the tail end of the ’16 campaign, which cost him what would’ve been a lucrative free-agent payday. Previous years include more hamstring strains, a torn knee ligament and a broken hand. Keeping Ramos upright will be an important task for the Mets; manager Mickey Callaway can’t lean too heavily on his new backstop.
But when Ramos is on the field, he produces, and that makes this a good move for a team that got close to zero from its catchers in 2018. Between Plawecki, Mesoraco, Tomas Nido, Jose Lobaton, and Travis d’Arnaud (who missed most of the year after blowing out his elbow), Mets catchers hit a gruesome .208/.297/.355 last season. Amazingly, that line wasn’t even close to the worst in the majors—seriously, catchers can’t hit anymore—but it’s still far from good. Ramos should out-do that easily, adding needed thump to what was a thin lineup.
The contract doesn’t break the bank either. With a $9.5 million average annual value, Ramos won’t place any kind of undue burden on the Mets’ books, even with the team’s finances in perpetual peril. Add him to the already existing ledger alongside the offseason’s other big additions—Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia, signed a few days ago to a three-year deal—and the Mets’ payroll is still a manageable $95 million before arbitration. There’s plenty of room for general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to bolster the roster.
And there are still additions that need to be made. Even with Cano, Familia, Diaz and Ramos in the fold, the Mets could still use an outfielder with Yoenis Cespedes out until at least the All-Star break; a better starter than Jason Vargas (or someone more dependable than Steven Matz); and more relief help for a bullpen that sorely lacked talent last year. The organization also needs an infusion of depth, particularly in position players, in the high minors so as to weather in-season injuries better. New York can’t call it an offseason yet. Slowly but surely, though, Van Wagenen has added useful pieces to an uneven roster—and more importantly, he’s shown a willingness to aim for higher upside and performance than the Mets have in previous years. (See: last year’s low-energy signings of Vargas, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier.)
That only goes so far: Depressingly and inexplicably, the Mets seem to be out on both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado despite both representing a quantum leap in talent; there’s also no news connecting them to other high-end free agents who could help. This is still a big-market team playing coy with its checks for no reason other than not wanting to cut them. And while Ramos is a good choice, fellow free agent Grandal might’ve been the better move—but as the more expensive one, he was never going to fly.
But Ramos at least represents a safer and smarter choice than splurging on Realmuto (especially if, given the rumors floating around during the Winter Meetings, it was going to cost Noah Syndergaard, which would’ve been senseless). And adding him shows that Van Wagenen is committed to aiming for contention by proactively making moves instead of hoping for it if everything breaks right. In what promises to be a rough-and-tumble NL East, that should be a sign of relief for long-suffering Mets fans.