Earlier this month, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made the first big splash of his tenure with a blockbuster trade geared towards contending in 2019, bringing Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from Seattle in exchange for two former first-round picks and some expensive ballast. After considering a variety of trade scenarios involving Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, Van Wagenen went a more conservative route to fill one of the team’s glaring needs, signing free agent Wilson Ramos to a two-year, $19 million deal with a club option for 2021. It’s an appropriate bit of restraint that nonetheless provides a solid upgrade.
The 31-year-old Ramos split his 2018 season between the Rays (78 games) and Phillies (33 games), hitting .306/.358/.487 with 15 homers. His 131 wRC+ was tops among catchers, and his 2.4 WAR fifth. He earned All-Star honors for the second time in three seasons but missed the game itself due to a left hamstring strain that sidelined him for a month. During his time on the disabled list, he was traded to Philadelphia for a player to be named later or cash on July 31.
The big knock on Ramos is that he’s had a hard time staying healthy during his nine-year major league career. The 2015 and 2016 seasons are the only ones in the past seven years in which he’s avoided the DL. He’s had three surgeries (two in 2012, one in 2017) to repair the meniscus and ACL in his right knee, served three stints for hamstring strains (2013 and 2014 being the others), and suffered a foul tip-induced fractured hamate that required surgery in his left wrist in 2014. He’s averaged just 92 games a year since arriving for good in the majors in 2011.
The hamate fracture was a fluke injury, but the lower-body woes are of a concern for a catcher who lists at 245 pounds. In our Top 50 Free Agents rankings, Ramos was 17th, nine spots lower than fellow free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal, in part due to his size and durability issues. While he’s been the slightly better hitter of the pair over the past three seasons, with a 120 wRC+ to Grandal’s 116, he’s made 296 fewer plate appearances in that span, including 102 fewer in 2018. He’s also 15 months older, and nowhere near Grandal’s class as a defender. Baseball Prospectus’ pitch framing-inclusive metrics have Ramos 6.1 runs above average over the past three seasons but slightly in the red in both 2017 and 2018. By comparison, Grandal was 79 runs above average in that three-year span, including an MLB-best 15.7 above average in the framing department in 2018; by DRS, the three-year, framing-inclusive tally is -11 runs for Ramos, 39 for Grandal.
Thus you can understand why teams might prefer Grandal, though his postseason pitch-blocking woes might hurt the perception of him. Also working against Grandal is his attachment to a rejected qualifying offer for the Dodgers. Had the Mets signed him, they would have forfeited their second 2019 draft pick and $500,000 of international pool money.
The surprise is in Ramos’ price tag. The New York Times‘ James Wagner reported that Ramos will make $8.25 million in 2019 and $9.25 million in 2020. He’s got a $10 million club option for 2021, with a $1.5 million buyout for a total guarantee of $19 million. The salary is just over half of the $36 million (spread over three years) that both Kiley McDaniel and our crowdsource project estimated he would receive when we made up our free agent list. By comparison, the estimates for Grandal range from $39 million to $45 million for three years.
As for Realmuto, the Mets were reportedly very interested in him, but balked at the possibility of including major league talent such as Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, and/or Amed Rosario in exchange — to say nothing of a rumored three-way trade involving the Yankees that would also have required dealing Noah Syndergaard.
Now that they have Ramos, the key for the Mets is finding another catcher with whom to pair him. Between Kevin Plawecki, Devin Mesoraco, Tomas Nido, Jose Lobaton and Travis d’Arnaud, the team got just an 82 wRC+ offensive showing (.208/.297/.355) from its catchers in 2018, and a total of 0.7 WAR by our measures (0.8 via Baseball-Reference, and 1.5 WARP via Baseball Prospectus). Mesoraco and Lobaton are both free agents, while the going-on-30-year-old d’Arnaud, the best defender of the bunch (41.8 FRAA career, 11.4 FRAA in 2017) is coming off April 2018 Tommy John surgery and has a track record for health that would make Ramos blanch.
All told, our Depth Charts projections suggest that the signing of Ramos eyeballs as about a one-win upgrade over a Plawecki/d’Arnaud pairing. Given that the Mets now project as an 86-win team, this is exactly the type of move they should be making, one that significantly increases their odds of securing a playoff spot without compromising their longer-term resources. When was the last time anybody could say that about a move that the Mets made?
Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.