One of the first roster decisions Mets General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, or whoever is running the show in the Steve Cohen era, will need to make as the team retools for 2021 is whether or not to pick up the $10 million team option on catcher Wilson Ramos. Ramos was one of the first signings during what may be a particularly short front office career for Van Wagenen, and the results weren’t quite as hoped when the backstop was inked to a two-year deal with that team option before the 2019 season.
Ramos’ first season with the team in 2019 was a bit of a bumpy ride. His satisfactory, if underwhelming and streaky, offensive performance was undermined by defense and game calling that compelled pitchers Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard to push for alternative backstops by mid-season. The situation with the Mets’ top two starters seemed to resolve itself, however, and Ramos’ bat more or less justified his signing by the end of the season.
To Ramos’ credit, he made a concerted effort to improve his defensive game for 2020 by modifying his approach behind the plate. Those changes did appear to pay dividends, at least in terms of a modest improvement of his pitch framing. Still, when compared to the rest of the league he was still middling in both framing and pop time this past season. He should be commended for his professionalism and his effort to improve on the shortcomings in his game, but his improvements still fell short of making any kind of meaningful impact on the team’s overall performance.
Ramos wasn’t signed for his defense, though, and if his 2019 with the bat at least somewhat justified his acquisition then his 2020 may be reason enough to buy out that team option for $1.5 million. He saw declines in almost every offensive metric, including average, OBP, and slugging. He walked less, struck out significantly more, and was somehow even slower on the basepaths. In short, his wRC+ of 89 in 2020, lack of defense, and his likely continued decline do not justify a $10 million price tag for his age 33 season.
Before the 2019 season, Van Wagenen rightly refused to pay a king’s ransom in a trade for J.T. Realmuto, but refusing to pay Yasmani Grandal may have turned out to be another of the multiple mistakes and miscalculations he made during his first offseason in charge. As a result, and as we head into the 2020-2021 offseason, the team is once again looking for answers behind the dish.
The options in free agency aren’t particularly appetizing, though the catcher position isn’t exactly booming with elite talent at the moment. The choices appear to be Realmuto, a target Mets fans will continue to dream on over the winter, followed by a plethora of 30-somethings with varying degrees of success and pedigree. Unless Cohen truly does throw open the purse strings, the Mets would likely benefit most from zeroing in on someone with defensive chops and allocating the bulk of their funds to rehabilitating a rotation that was the envy of the baseball world not long ago. Additionally, the continued development of the Mets’ young offensive core render the need for a bat behind the plate less necessary.
There’s very little about the 2020 season that could be considered normal, but the steady decline in performance of a catcher moving further into his 30’s was unsurprising and frustrating in a comfortably predicable way. Unfortunately for the Mets, Ramos sticking to the script for aging, fading backstops was detrimental to the team’s overall success. While he certainly wasn’t the main reason for the team’s fantastic failure in 2020, there’s no reason to believe he’s primed for any kind of resurgence in 2021. With more pressing needs on other parts of the roster, he certainly doesn’t appear to be part of the solution as the organization as a whole turns the page to a new chapter. Not at $10 million, anyway.