During the whole Scherzer/ZNN thing, I heard the same take a couple of times; the Nats didn't need to deal with ZNN because he was still under their control. The idea being that there was no good reason to sign Jordan to a long term deal before 2015 because they have him for that year no matter what. You can sign him anytime during the year or after the year as you would any free agent. It's not an entirely crazy opinion but there are good reasons to giveaway these cheap years in a long term deal.
The main reason is to get a couple of more under market years from a good young player. You decide to eat, say, three to four years of his control years and give him good money instead. In return, you get a couple of free agent years, usually prime performance years, at below cost. It's a trade off. The team is assuming risk while the player is delaying their potentially big payday for a more modest one today. It's what the Nats were trying to do with Desmond and ZNN last year but when a player gets closer to free agency he can see the finish line and is less likely to delay.
The other reason a team may offer a deal when they don't have to is when they might fear that a player's value will rise a good deal prior to free agency. If you sign now you could possibly save yourself a good deal of money on a top notch player. Generally this is a gamble because they haven't shown that level of talent consistently yet. (or else they'd be expensive). Wilson Ramos falls into this category.
Ramos has always been a good bat. An OPS of just under .750 would be a good bet if you think last year wasn't slowed by injury, an OPS of around .780 might be possible if you think it was. For the non-fancy stats crowd think roughly .270 with 20 hr power. The former opinion would make Ramos a Top 10 offensive catcher, the latter a Top 5 possibility. He's also 27 for he bulk of next season meaning he shouldn't be entering a trouble age. He isn't necessarily striking out more (we'll get to that in a minute) but he is walking less. He has proved capable though of walking at a rate that was more acceptable.
It's quite possible , in my opinion, if Ramos stays healthy all year, that he could put up a .275+ 25+ season. If he does that and follows it up with a healthy and decent 2016 - he's going to get paid. How much? It's doubtful it would be Russell Martin money (5/82). He's not the all-around player that he is. But he would be 3 years younger and even mediocre guys can get 7 million per the past few years. Considering I'm saying he's come off two healthy years and hit around 50 homers I'd say 4/52 would be a better "base". It helps that catchers trickle into FA. This year only Martin was worth committing to. Next year looked strong a couple years ago but the new looks at catcher defense makes this class (Jaso, Avila, Weiters, Iannetta) a lot less appealing as they range from below average behind the plate to awful. (not to mention getting on the older side). In 2017 it's likely the only startable catcher to compete with Ramos will be LuCroy and I'd be surprised if he wasn't wrapped up either by the Brewers or by whoever the Brewers trade him too. He's the whole package.
Anyway Ramos could get paid, but there's no way he's worth even 4/40 right now. First off, there is some worry that 2014 was a sign that he's fading away at the plate. Even if he's not at the age that usually happens, it still can (see: Alex Avila). Ramos's average is stable but his power dipped again and had been fed in the past by some high HR/FB percentages (though to be fair he is that kind of all or nothing fly ball type). More worrisome is the fact I noted earlier that Ramos isn't walking much. His walk rate was down to 5.0% last year, 4.7% this year. That's garbage territory. And it's because he's swinging at a lot more pitches. I know you all think he's become a strikeout machine but the numbers don't really show that. What he is doing with all these swings though is being overly aggressive. Nearly 70% of his at bats feature a "strike" (balls in play count for this) on the first pitch. That would lead the league. He has a pretty good average when he puts the ball in play (.321 / .317 / .420), but he doesn't put in in play twice as often as he does. And once he falls behind Wilson was a bad hitter (.205 /.241 / .298). Is this a trend? Or trying to compensate for issues brought on by the broken hand?
The bigger issue, though, are all the injuries. ACL tear, hamstring, hamstring again, said hand. All in all he's averaged 76 games over the past 4 years, and that's including his healthy 2011. Can Wilson stay healthy for a whole season? Can he simply play a whole season without wearing down if he IS healthy? We don't know yet.
Defense? Wilson is fine. The whole "pitch framing" new hotness said he was a little bad last year, a little good in 2013, average in 2012. He had been known as a good D guy before. That was probably a little bit of an exaggeration. He's fine. Average.
The upside of all the above though is that Wilson would be cheaper to sign long term right now. Could you get away with 4/32? Maybe. He'll probably make about 8 the next two years combined and he'd have to understand the risk the Nats are taking on. The question is, do the Nats make that gamble? It's a tough call. Guess right and they are paying 8 mill a year to an All-Star caliber catcher. Guess wrong and they are paying 8 mill to an all or nothing bat who plays 60 games a year. That's a nice back-up, but you pay back-up catchers nothing, not millions. The Nats have been funny about money. They are willing to shell it out by the truckload to certain guys (Boras guys?) but pinch every penny with others. The thing about the shelled out money is that it went to "sure things". I don't see the Nats taking this gamble, but part of me thinks they should.
I'd put it this way. If the Nats are going to let Wilson walk then that's fine. Get what you can for him for the next two years then send his free swigning injury risk self to the wind. But if they have any thoughts about keeping him beyond 2016 they should pull the trigger now. If only for one extra year of Ramos on the Nats. The cost is likely to be cheap enough to keep this deal from making or breaking the Nats fortunes over the course of it.They could come out big winners, but at that cost shouldn't come out big losers.