Nationals Baseball: Wilson Ramos - the gamble

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wilson Ramos - the gamble

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.


Mark twain said...

Pay the man. I don't see it costing so much that a lost gamble hurts them to much. Also if the gamble works and you get a catcher that can hit amazing use of cash. If we do sign him we should always have a solid backup just because of the risk. His defense is solid, he can throw out baserunners, and if we don't overuse when healthy can hit pretty well. But put him in the eight hole in the lineup because of that speed.

Chinatown Express said...

If he's healthy and hits like he has in the past, he's a #4 or #5 hitter on a lot of teams. But I'm admittedly a homer for the guy. He hit a walk-off home run in a meaningless late-season away game in 2010 or '11. Ever since then I've been irrational attached to him in the same way I'm irrationally attached to Rendon, Purke, and Storen. Some of those irrational attachments have worked out better than others.

Quick takes on Casey Janssen? He fluctuated between 1.0 and 1.9 WAR from 2010 to 2013, with more good seasons than bad ones. He's old, but doesn't have a ton of miles on the odo. And his poor finish to 2014 can be explained by food poisoning and weight loss, apparently, I guess. I'm less concerned about the $5 million than I am about potentially wasting innings on a bust.

blovy8 said...

The other issue is who's in the pipeline. The Nats have several catchers in the low minors with a future, but it would probably take three years for any of them to arrive. He hasn't had the health to get a Montero type deal, but I wonder if his agent wouldn't want to wait until he does have a full year, if 4/32 is the offer. I would lean toward offering him your deal even with the reservations, because the upside as a middle of the order bat is there, and the Lerners have now shown they'll accept sunk costs as the price of having a budget projection. If you're not going to keep Desmond, and you're building around guys like Rendon and Harper for the next four years, it makes sense to try to keep his RH power, to allow you to go for more defense in the middle infield if the talent flows that way.

I'd rather have Clippard at 8.85 million than Janssen at 5. But this move was totally predictable, and knocks down Rizzo's Cole to the pen idea way before spring training, which is also a good thing.

Clip&Store said...

You gonna make another post about Jansen signing today or tomorrow?

Harper said...

tomorrow (or late tonight) I'm on the move most of the afternoon

DezoPenguin said...

I would wait to see what they decide to do with the starting rotation before extending Ramos. He's worth an extension in an abstract world ("a bird in the hand"); on the other hand, if, say, Strasburg goes to the Red Sox for a package centered around Blake Swihart, maybe they don't want to lock in Ramos. The injury history is also scary. But if a new Plan A doesn't materialize, he's probably worth extending simply because anything that's likelier than him to be successful over the next four years or so doesn't exist in our possession right now.

cass said...

Given all his injuries and the short careers of catchers, I don't think I'd extend him. Just seems like there's more risk than reward here. Take the next two years and figure there won't be much value after that.

I could be wrong, of course.

JWLumley said...

Meh, if they can sign him for an amount that would allow him to be a backup catcher at some point, then great, but if not I say no way. Here's the reasoning: What people who study this stuff have found is that soft tissue injuries are likely more predictive of future injury struggles than other injuries. This is why I'm not worried about Harper, but I'd be money that Ramos makes a trip to the DL this year and next. His defense is okay, his bat is okay, perhaps good for a catcher, but with Ramos you also have to factor in the cost of a 3rd catcher. No way I'd re-sign him, in fact I'd be looking to dump him on someone else if he somehow stays healthy this year.

Also, Casey Jannsen. Woo-hoo, bullpen looks a lot better now.

Wally said...

I'd say do it, and I think it costs quite a bit less than 4/$32. I don't think he gets a better deal than Mesoraco. With his injury history, I expect that he would do 4/$25, or even 3/$18. If you get a full year out of him, it's not crazy to think he could put up 3-4 WAR, which almost pays for that contract. From his end, either of those contracts sets him up for life

Downside is immaterial for a club like the Nats.