When he was traded for Wilson Ramos immediately became the Nats' "catcher of the future". And by "the future" they really meant "from this point forward". Their highly touted minor league catcher Derek Norris was used as part of the deal for Gio Gonzalez (no complaints) and Wilson was handed the reins. The trade was four years ago. Since then the Nats have gotten 239 games from Ramos, or a season and a half. Is he still the catcher of "the future" or has his time come and gone?
This time Wilson injured his wrist. It's a troubling injury because we've seen wrist injuries sap the power from players for a season or two. Wilson relies on his power more than any aspect of his offense. However, there is some conflicting information about this specific wrist injury though as Espinosa, Zimmerman, and Desmond, all who have had hamate bone surgery before, claim it didn't effect their power. Let's check that.
isoSLG* year before : .168 minors, .233 majors
Surgery off season 2010
year after : .178 majors
isoSLG* year before : .168 minors prev year, .152 minors year of surgery
Surgery during 2008
year after : .147 minors, .281 majors
isoSLG* year before : .192
Surgery off season 2007
year after : .159
Honestly we don't learn all that much. Ian and Danny were both still developing players straddling the line between the minors and the majors. Their high isoSLG numbers in the majors come with limited play. It's hard to draw any conclusions from those numbers. Ryan's show a bit more clarity that power was lost for him. However, looking at other major leaguers who have had the surgery recently, Pedroia, Sandoval, Tulo, there is no real pattern that power is lost. Sandoval and Tulo had the surgery in-season and hit with more power after.
So the power question is unfortunately unresolved. It may effect Ramos, as it did seem to effect Zimm. Or it may not. The odds are leaning toward it not, but it IS surgery and I never would claim anything for sure after a surgical procedure.
The other injuries
As we all know, this isn't Wilson's first time at the rodeo.
2009 : Broken Finger, Hamstring injury
2012 : Tore ACL
2013 : Hamstring injury
The most obvious point is that you see, counting the injury this season, is he's had five injuries missing some significant time over the course of six seasons. It is difficult to believe you can rely on Ramos to play a full season. A smaller point is that's we see three leg injuries in 5 years. That's a bit worrying as it is hard for catchers to remain catchers forever because of the wear and tear. If he's already got significant "tear" on his legs, it probably won't take much more "wear" before he's forced to move to another position. Ramos' overall stats seem like a decent bet going forward - something like .270 / .325 / .450 (power depending on injury recovery of course). That's getting into the Top 10 for catchers, but only the Top 20 for first basemen.
Age and Contract
The surgery is a wash right now, and the history of injuries work against him. What works for Ramos? His age. Wilson is still only 26 years old (27 in August) and thus is at his peak, rather than coming down. There is some thought that catchers peak later, but the evidence is not strong. The next few seasons are likely to be the best the Nats get from Ramos and by 2016 or 2017 injuries or performance may have changed his place on the team.
As for the contract he'll be a free agent after the 2016 season. That's both good news and bad news for the Nats. The good news is that it doesn't force them to make a decision on Ramos during his peak years. The bad news is that it could hamper moving forward in a different direction with Ramos' talent, whenever it can play, available to them cheaply. Either way right now Ramos on the Nats in 2017 and beyond looks unlikely.
Catchers in the minors?
The Nats "catcher of the future" in the minors is most likely Sandy Leon. He had a great season 2012 in limited play (he would injure his ankle while blocking the plate) but hit terribly last season. The team plays it off as a "season long slump" but looking at his minor league stats it's hard not to see 2012 as a fluke season, rather than a break out. Jhonathon Solano's age and performance at the plate makes him a non-starter. Adrian Nieto might be another name you've heard of and, yeah, he's kind of on the White Sox now. The Nats did like him as he did seem like he could hit (though admittedly at lower minor league levels) but with Ramos and Leon (and Solano for some reason) ahead of him he was depth, not a real prospect. He wasn't protected in Rule V, as the Nats gambled if a team did pick him up they wouldn't be able to keep him on their roster. The White Sox made him their back-up catcher. He scored a run yetserday!
Short of it - not really much here, as much as they'll try to tell you differently.
So is it time to move on or not?
I was worried when I started looking at this that it would be. But the recent history of the hamate bone surgery looks pretty good, Ramos is still only 26, and they have him cheaply through 2016. He could very easily come back in mid-May play 110-120 games and hit .270 while slugging 20 homers. Since that remains a possibility with 2 whole more years where he is still not yet 30 in front of you, you have to continue on with the Ramos plan as is. It does have to be similar to the 2014 plan, which demands a major league ready back-up like Lobaton, but it is too early to move on.
I will say that Ramos, for me, is on his last strike now. Failure to hit the rest of the season when he comes back or another weeks long injury and I think the Nats do have to look in another direction. Maybe they don't find anything while looking but they'd need to.
*SLG-BA, a better read on power than SLG