The Nats put up another uninspired effort but I will say I was a bit more pleased yesterday than the previous couple nights. Last night was more about failure to get the big hit than it was a failure to get the guys on. That's progress right? I don't know. Like I said yesterday - season is too far gone to worry about East. HFA is still relatively secure (we'll revisit at series end) and all I really care about is that the Nats start hitting a week from now. And even then that's for impressions going into the playoffs more than anything dependable.
Let's talk about Ramos shall we? A big FA overview - not a look into his recent slump.
Wilson Ramos, gotten in a trade for Matt Capps so long ago, was supposed to be the Nats catcher of the future. In 2011, at age 23, he was eased into the role playing 113 games. He had an OPS of 113 and finished 4th in ROY voting.* The Nats believed in Ramos so much they dealt away another potential starter, Derek Norris, in the deal to get back Gio. A solid receiver, it looked to be the beginning of a fruitful career, where the Nats could take advantage of having a plus player for cheap in one of the hardest positions to fill.
Then the injuries came.
A torn ACL in 2012 limited him to 25 games in 2012. A pulled hamstring in 2013 kept Ramos out for much of the first half and he played only 78 games. In 2014 he broke his hand on Opening Day and would be limited to 88 games. Finally in 2015 Ramos would be healthy enough to play a reasonable amount of games. The problem was he was terrible. He hit .229 / .258 / .358. Given the last four seasons had been nothing but heartache it looked like 2016 would be the last time you'd see Wilson in a Nats uniform.
Then Wilson got LASIK and it all seemed to turn around. A .316 / .328 / .491 line in April was followed by an even better .333 / .400 / .522 line in May and an even BETTER .364 / .414 / .636 line in June. Wilson was an All-Star, the best hitting catcher in the league. But seasons are long and surprises usually find a way of stopping to be such. Wilson would have a solid July, .291 / .351 / .442, but August would be a slow down .261 / .293 / .446 and September would be a dead stop .229 / .288 / .354.
As Wilson prepares to enter free agency we have to ask ourselves 'Who is the real Wilson Ramos'? Was the first half just a fluke? Or is this just fatigue? Do the Nats re-sign him?
Let's look at it dispassionately
Wilson Ramos just turned 29. He's had an excellent 2016 overall. He has a history of injury but recently has been able to stay healthy. His history suggests that both 2015 and the first half of 2016 were not representative of his actual offensive talent level. It is more likely that he is a .270 hitter with 20+ homer power but absolutely no patience and no speed. As far as you can trust the stats, he is still a solid defender, and not a great framer but not a bad one either.
If you believe in the above then Wilson is an attractive target as he would remain a Top 10ish catcher in the league with that profile. With catcher production hard to come by, fully a third of the league would do very well to pick up Wilson. Given his age he's not necessarily limited to only contenders expecting 1-2 good years as he could reasonably give you 4 years or more of similar production. There is also a dearth of quality FAs on the market. Matt Weiters, the only real likely rival, has not done well after taking that qualifying offer. The second best available catcher may be one-time Nat Kurt Suzuki, who has managed replacement level offense at a reasonable value. Some of the teams that may be in the market for Wilson include rivals such as the Mets, the Braves, and the Orioles, along with teams like the Tigers and Astros.
As far as contract goes, four recent comparisons include Brian McCann (5/85), Russell Martin (5/82), Sal Perez (5/52.5) and Francisco Cervelli (3/31). Given his age and production and the scarcity of the position, I'd probably say he'd be closer to the 17 million than the 10 average salary so let's give an estimate of 4years, 56 million for what Ramos would get. However, the Nats could offer him a QO which could diminish his value because teams are stupid.
The next question is will the Nats go there. If you go by history it's unlikely. As far as re-signing players go, the Nats love to get a deal on the remaining arbitration years to off-set the over pays necessary for the free agent years. This is what they offered for ZNN and Desmond, and seemingly talked about with Strasburg. Thanks to injuries and performance the Nats didn't do this for Ramos. They also apparently haven't made any overtures to Ramos about re-signing him this year.
But if the Nats don't resign Ramos they don't have a good plan B. Jose Lobaton was a fine back-up when they got him but is close to end of life for MLB. Organizationally they like Pedro Severino but he hasn't been impressive in AAA. He is starting to hit for a bit of average and he doesn't strike out a ton, but has no patience or power to speak of. He is only 23 so there's time for him to improve but the best you could probably hope for in 2017 from him is an empty .260+ average. He is supposed to be a very good defender though. Beyond Severino there really isn't anything. Kieboom is older and hasn't clicked at AA. There's a handful of young catchers in the low minors, Read, Cabello, Reetz; worth keeping an eye on but no one that looks to be imminent.
Payroll-wise the Nats will likely have little flexibility. With Strasburg and Ross injuries in the second half, the retention of Gio is necessary. That keeps the payroll up in the 145 million range which is where they seem to like it. They could save about 10 million by letting Petit walk and jettisoning Ben Revere but the Nats are going to need the re-fill the bench (Drew and Heisey are FA) and do a little bullpen work. Melancon, Rzepczynski, and Belisle are all FA this year. Even if you key in say Kelley as closer and Treinen as set-up, you still probably want a reliable veteran arm in there. All that together will be pretty close to 10 million.
Competition wise the Nats find themselves with a leg up on the NL East competitors going into 2017. They are more talented than the Marlins, who find themselves lacking starting pitching with a depleted minor league system; and healthier than the Mets, who also desperately need to keep Cespedes. With Trea Turner looking like an All-Star caliber player there is enough of a core - Byrce, Rendon, Murphy, Turner - to build an offense around without Ramos, while if healthy the pitching staff should remain one of the better ones in the National League.
My guess is the Nats don't re-sign Ramos. They probably don't want to given the payroll and they can convince themselves pretty easily that a "good enough" solution for 2017 will work, while they see if Severino can hack it. Ramos' injury history and 2nd half makes him a gamble and the Nats may be less willing to make such a move given the questions raised by the recent long term retention deals signed, Zimmerman and Strasburg. I can see them offering Ramos something like 3/30+ to begin with to see if he would take it and then offering him the QO. I don't see Ramos taking either of those however. To me the most telling sign is the lack of contact between the Nats and Ramos. They aren't shy about saying they want to sign guys even if they don't think it will work out. The fact Ramos hasn't heard anything to me tells me they don't have any plans.
*Because you are wondering Kimbrel won it. Freeman was 2nd. Third was Vance Worley. Espy was 6th.