Following a career year in 2016, catcher Wilson Ramos cashed in this offseason with the Tampa Bay Rays, the team officially announced on Monday:
Ramos and Miami Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto tied for the third-highest WAR (3.5) among qualified catchers last season, per FanGraphs. Despite his success at the plate, there were some questions as to Ramos' market value after a torn ACL ended his campaign in September.
Sherman reported the Rays' offer is pending a physical, which remains a question mark for Ramos. Sherman added that the length of the deal could benefit the catcher:
Torn ACL aside, the 29-year-old picked a great time to have his best MLB season at the plate. In 131 games, he had a .307/.354/.496 slash line along with 22 home runs and 80 runs batted in.
In March, Ramos explained to MLB.com's Cash Kruth how having Lasik surgery benefited his plate vision:
More comfortable and I'm seeing the pitch really, really well after surgery. Now I can say the surgery helped me to be better at the plate. …
It's making me feel comfortable and making me feel excited, because before I was swinging at everything. Ball, strike, I was feeling very bad sometimes because I'd say, 'That was a bad pitch, why did I swing?' Now I feel more comfortable at the plate. It's only four or five games after surgery, but I see the difference now.
Heyman reported that the Washington Nationals had offered Ramos a three-year deal worth about $30 million during the season, but he turned it down. On Sept. 15, Heyman speculated that Ramos could command $68 million over four years.
That was before the injury, though, which was the second time he tore the ACL in his right knee.
While the torn ACL hurt Ramos' value, he benefited from what was a thin talent pool in free agency. Teams looking for immediate offensive help didn't have a wealth of options from which to choose. Ramos was also the best catcher on the market.
With that said, his signing comes with a few concerns.
In the likely event his torn ACL forces him to play less at catcher, he loses some of his value. Hitting 20-plus home runs and driving in 80 runs is great for a catcher but less so for a first baseman or designated hitter.
To a certain extent, it's the same problem the Minnesota Twins have with Joe Mauer. Using Mauer at first base is the best way to keep him healthy, but the Twins can no longer expect a full return on the $23 million a year they're paying him. According to FanGraphs, Mauer's .389 slugging percentage was second-worst among qualified first basemen.
Whether Ramos can maintain last year's production is questionable as well. His .327 batting average on balls in play was third-best among qualified catchers and 36 points higher than his career BABIP (.291), per FanGraphs.
He can attribute some of his improvement to the Lasik surgery—a factor that should carry over to next year. Ramos also had his fair share of good luck, which isn't a given from one season to the next.
In 2014, Russell Martin had a .336 BABIP—a career high—which in part helped him post his highest WAR (4.9) since 2008, per FanGraphs. He turned his big season into a five-year, $82 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Martin's performance leveled off a bit in his first two years with Toronto. In 2016, he batted .231 with 20 home runs and 74 RBI and finished with 1.7 WAR.
Ramos might have a similar decline in 2017. Still, the Rays are smart to take the risk.
According to FanGraphs, Tampa Bay had the third-worst collective WAR (minus-0.1) at catcher in 2016. Ramos will be the Rays' best catcher since Dioner Navarro in the late 2000s, and he should be a significant upgrade over Curt Casali.