PHOENIX — Late Tuesday night, after his Nationals throttled the Diamondbacks for the second time in a row, Dusty Baker showered Wilson Ramos with praise. He called the all-star catcher “a godsend.” He said he couldn’t imagine not having the Venezuelan on the team because he’s “figured it out” in his sixth season and has helped carry the first-place club offensively alongside Daniel Murphy while other players have performed below expectations.
Then the manager, unsolicited, addressed Ramos’s future with the Nationals, which is currently slated to be up in the air this offseason when he becomes a free agent.
“I’m hoping that we try to do something with Ramos here,” Baker said. “I’m hoping we do something with big Ramos here to retain him soon.”
Because of his timely breakout season, the 28-year-old Ramos will be one of the top players on the free-agent market — if he hits the market. And there is no indication so far that he won’t. Ramos said Wednesday the the team has not approached him or his agent about a contract extension.
“They have told me absolutely nothing still,” said Ramos, who was acquired as part of a package from the Twins in exchange for Matt Capps in 2010. “I’d like [to have my future here], but those are decisions they make … They haven’t made any calls or communicated with us. We’re still waiting.”
Ramos stands to get a significant raise on his $5.35 million salary. If he doesn’t sign an extension, the Nationals could make him the qualifying offer, which will be a one-year contract worth more than $16 million. If he turned it down and signed with another team then the Nationals would be given a compensation draft pick.
Ramos began the season confident and healthy. Motivated by this being his walk year, he changed his offseason workout routine and had eye surgery to improve his vision in spring training. Then he got off to a hot start, playing to the potential that had made him a top prospect. A regression would’ve been understandable — Ramos has never hit better than .272 or posted an OPS better than .779 in a season in the majors — but it’s early August and that hasn’t happened.
Ramos has been the best offensive catcher in baseball by a good margin, posting numbers in another stratosphere compared to his production in previous years. Entering Wednesday, he led all qualified catchers in batting average (.331), on-base percentage (.381), slugging percentage (.536), wRC+ (144) and RBI (59). He was tied for first in home runs (16) and second in isolated power (.205). He’s cut his strikeout rate from 20 percent last year to 13 percent. Old-school stats and sabermetrics both show premier offensive production.
“It makes me very happy because I’m healthy and I can help the team a lot when I’m healthy,” Ramos said in Spanish. “And that’s one of the reasons why I’m having the year I’m having, a very good year. In these moments, I’m not worried much about numbers. I’m just trying to do my job and help the team as much as I can.”
Defensively, he ranks last among qualified catchers in defensive runs saved (DRS) according to FanGraphs, but is fifth in defensive runs above average (DEF), a metric that combines positional average and positional value relative to other positions. He’s eighth in caught stealing percentage and first in catchers’ ERA (pitchers obviously have a huge impact on both those measures). He has caught three no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game over the last two seasons.
Regardless, Ramos is at his best in the batter’s box, not behind the plate. That was evident again Tuesday when he swatted a three-run home in the fifth inning off Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray to blow the game open. It was the latest big hit in a big spot for Ramos, who has piled those up this season. The home run tied his career high, set last season.
“I’m working hard on that,” Ramos said. “I’m concentrating a lot when I’m at the plate when there are runners on base and I’m trying to focus on driving run in when possible. I’m not trying to hit home runs. I’m focusing a lot on hitting the ball through middle and I think that’s what has helped me help the team the way I’ve been able to.”
Most importantly, Ramos has played in 91 games this season and is on pace to break the career-high of 128 games played he set last season. It couldn’t have come at a better time.