Wilson Ramos is cognizant of the unsettling reality thrust into his future the moment he landed on his right leg and felt the anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee on Monday night. He was already a 29-year-old catcher with a long history of injuries, one that included ACL and MCL tears in that knee. Add at least one more surgery to the knee, which Ramos is scheduled to undergo soon after the swelling subsides, and his value as a baseball player isn’t the same.
Unfortunately for Ramos, his value dropped at the end of his walk year, on the eve of free agency, and he won’t have a chance to reestablish himself before soliciting bids for his services. The circumstances will undoubtedly have an impact on his earning power just when he appeared on the verge of a huge payday after a career season. The Venezuelan would like to stay with the Nationals beyond 2016, but understands Washington might not provide the best situation for him.
“I’ve received the opportunity that I always wanted in my career here,” Ramos said, speaking in Spanish. “I feel happy, very proud of the opportunities they’ve given me. My career grew in this organization and I would like to stay here for a lot of years. Unfortunately, this happened with my knee and it’s very difficult at my position to be in the National League, but I’d really like to be here for a lot of years. I hope to get out of the operation fine and get back very strong to stay here with this team.”
Staying in the National League wouldn’t afford Ramos the opportunity to DH regularly, only during infrequent interleague matchups. An American League club would allow him to split time between catcher and DH more evenly. That scenario was always possible for Ramos at some point in his career, but it is perhaps now imperative sooner than anticipated.
A first-time all-star this season, Ramos’s stock as a designated hitter skyrocketed despite a deep August swoon following a more vigorous offseason workout regimen and undergoing eye surgery to improve his vision during spring training. He finished with career highs in batting average (.307), slugging percentage (.496), on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.850), hits (148), home runs (22), RBI (80), and games played (131). The production put him in line for a big contract as one of the top prizes in a weak free-agent crop.
“I’m very happy with the season that I had,” Ramos said. “To be able to do what I did makes me feel super happy after a year that wasn’t very good. This year, I worked very hard for that and I achieved it and I feel super happy with that. It’s a difficult moment now that I was on the verge of playing in another playoffs and this happened. But you have to look at the positives over the negatives.”
Ramos recently declined a three-year contract extension worth more than $30 million, believing he would earn more in free agency. It was assumed the Nationals would propose Ramos the qualifying offer — a one-year, $16.7 million contract — in early November knowing he would reject it, giving Washington a compensation pick in next June’s draft if the two sides didn’t agree on another deal. But the Nationals may decide not to offer Ramos the one-year pact because he could decide to accept it in the wake of his injury, leaving them with a catcher making more than three times his previous salary who probably will not be ready for the start of next season.
The Nationals will get an unexpected look at their in-house options should Ramos depart in the postseason. The club will carry Jose Lobaton and rookie Pedro Severino on its playoff roster. Lobaton said Thursday that he was told he and Severino will platoon. Lobaton, a switch-hitter, will start against right-handed pitchers and Severino, a right-handed hitter, will start against left-handed pitchers. If that is the case, Severino would start Games 1 and 2 of the National League Divisional Series because the Los Angeles Dodgers are slated to have left-handers Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill start. In his first start since Ramos’s injury, Severino hit a solo home run Thursday off Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray.
Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said he’d like to have Ramos stay in Washington to watch the team’s playoff games in person.
“He can contribute a lot because he’s usually positive,” Baker said. “He’s seen a lot of these guys. He can help Severino out quite a bit. Offensively and defensively, help with the scouting report. I’m hoping that he’s available and sticks around. I’m going to try to convince him even though it could be painful after that operation because he’s going through a serious time and the sooner he gets it done the sooner he’ll recover.”
Ramos, however, said he’ll be at home in Florida ensuring his recovery gets off to a good start, four years after rehabilitating from ACL and MCL surgeries.
“After I have the surgery, it’s going to be hard to be here supporting the team,” Ramos said. “I’ll do it from my house because I’d need to be off my feet not moving my leg. I’d like to be here, but the rehabilitation I have to do isn’t easy and it requires a lot of precaution.”
Consequently, these could be Ramos’s final days in the Nationals clubhouse as a member of the team. He’s going to decide on a doctor to perform his surgery over the next couple days, travel to have the procedure done, and then go home with a murky future.
“I feel a little bit more relaxed,” Ramos said. “I’ve had a few days to take a step back and think about it. It’s obviously very frustrating for me going through this towards the end. But all I can do is stay positive and make sure I get my rest, rehab properly and come back stronger.”