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Mike Rizzo on Wilson Ramos: ‘He’s a guy that it would be difficult to find a better replacement for’

Wilson Ramos. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Wilson Ramos wasn’t the only National to underperform at the plate last season but his struggles were noticeable for a variety of reasons. He was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball over the past few injury-riddled seasons, offering the promise of big production if he remained healthy. But when he finally was healthy in 2015, his defense improved while his offense regressed.

Ramos, 28, presents an interesting question for the Nationals. He made $3.55 million this season. The 2016 season will be his final one before free agency. Once a key franchise piece and an extension candidate before, Ramos is nearing what could be the end of his time as a National. General Manager Mike Rizzo declined to say if the Nationals have discussed any extensions for current players.

The Nationals have backup catcher Jose Lobaton under team control for two more years. And young prospects such as Pedro Severino, who was a September call-up from Class AA Harrisburg this season, are moving up through the system. The Nationals could consider upgrading at catcher this offseason as Scott Boras client Matt Wieters headlines the free agent class and Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy would be the top catcher potentially on the trade market. But Rizzo is bullish on Ramos.

“He’s a good catcher,” Rizzo said. “He was No. 1 in throwing runners out. He was up for a Gold Glove. He was one of the top in National League in home runs and RBI. He had a down year in getting on base, not like he should, and hitting for average. But as far as a guy, as catchers go, really had some impact in the lineup with power, RBI and catch-throw skills were fine. We like Ramos. He’s a guy that it would be difficult to find a better replacement for.”

In some ways, Ramos had a better defensive season than offensive one. He still struggled catching throws from the outfield and some scouts pointed to lapses in game calling and receiving, such as pitch framing. But some advanced metrics and evaluators suggest Ramos did well at blocking balls and calling games. He was one of the best in baseball at stopping balls in the dirt, and he had the highest caught-stealing rate among qualified catchers (44 percent). He also made history by catching three no-hitters (Jordan Zimmermann and two from Max Scherzer) in a 162-game span.

Ramos played in a career-high 128 games in 2015, achieving a major personal goal, and finally proving he could stay healthy and in shape. But he hit a career-low .229 with 15 home runs, 68 RBI and a .616 OPS while striking out a career-high 101 times. His offensive output (.229/.258/.358) was less than an average major league catcher (.238/.302/.376). His home run total was fourth among NL catchers and RBI ranked second behind Buster Posey.

The Nationals’ offense will and should not be dependent on Ramos. His struggles in 2015 stood out because of the underperformance of others around him, too. Offense is a luxury at catcher in the majors. If Ramos even hits closer to his career norms (.258/.301/.411), he will be an above-average major league offensive catcher.