Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple weeks, you’re well aware that New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was in the market to upgrade the catcher position prior to agreeing with Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal (pending a physical, of course).
Yes, Travis d’Arnaud did get tendered a contract for 2019, but that was simply because the Mets didn’t have any real major-league depth for that spot of the roster. And no matter what was said publicly, a d’Arnaud-Kevin Plawecki duo heading into Opening Day would’ve been a worst-case scenario for a club looking to play October baseball.
We know that New York bringing Ramos into the fold is going to be an upgrade, but exactly how much? Looking at statistics from past years helps, but using projection models, like FanGraphs’ Steamer projections, enables us to put some context around how much he’s expected to help.
Projections for d’Arnaud and Plawecki
Here’s what Steamer has projected for the Mets’ two current catchers heading into 2019:
Basically splitting playing time right down the middle, these two can combine to become one serviceable big-league catcher. After all, only three catchers who qualified for the batting title accumulated an fWAR higher than the above combined number of 2.3 last season. Based off recent production, though, both of these projections seem a little aggressive.
The talent level may be there, but neither d’Arnaud nor Plawecki have looked this productive during the past few seasons.
Staying healthy is the first hurdle d’Arnaud must clear to even have a chance at approaching these numbers. Still, after combining for 3.6 fWAR between 2014 and 2015, his performance has been worth 0.8 fWAR since the start of 2016 (668 plate appearances). Something similar can be said for Plawecki. That 1.2 fWAR projection would not only be a new single-season career high, but it’d also nearly double his career fWAR number heading into next year (1.3 through 804 plate appearances).
Standing pat here would’ve been that classic, “Well, if they stay healthy and play up to expectation, then we’ll be OK” situation. Van Wagenen already stated he wants to eliminate as many of those instances as possible, and he’s keeping his word.
We knew the projections for d’Arnaud and Plawecki weren’t going to jump off the page, though. What about their latest acquisition?
Projection for Ramos
In his first full year back following an unfortunate ACL injury, Ramos turned in an All-Star campaign — one that he split between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies. He slashed .306/.358/.487 through 416 plate appearances, which was eerily similar to what he did during his legit breakout campaign in 2016 (.307/.354/.496 line in 523 plate appearances).
Of course, Ramos wasn’t the only catching option BVW was pursuing. Outside of a very public and ultimately unsuccessful effort to acquire J.T. Realmuto, New York was also engaged in conversations with free agents Yasmani Grandal and Martin Maldonado.
Here’s what Ramos’ current Steamer projection looks like:
Anytime you can acquire a player that’s projected to be more valuable than all the current players combined at a position, you gotta do it.
Catcher is not a usual spot to get above-average offensive production from a player, but this winter is unique in the fact that teams in need of one had (or have) a number of top-tier options available. Among backstops with at least 400 plate appearances in 2018, eight accumulated 2.0 fWAR or more. Interestingly enough, five of those eight either were available at one point (Yan Gomes and Ramos) or are still available (Realmuto, Grandal, and Francisco Cervelli).
The Right Kind of Value Acquisition
In a vacuum, nabbing Realmuto or Grandal probably would’ve yielded more valuable on-field results. The cost of each would’ve also been felt, though. Two years of Realmuto likely meant losing Amed Rosario, Brandon Nimmo, or Michael Conforto (plus more), while Grandal is angling for a four-year pact (and also has draft-pick compensation attached to him).
Guaranteeing Ramos just $19 million over the next two seasons (without counting the third-year option) gives them a substantial upgrade, along with the flexibility to keep augmenting the roster in various ways.
Given all the available catchers this offseason, the Mets have a terrific opportunity to make an impactful move. It wouldn’t have been surprising for New York to go bargain hunting here, so it’s refreshing to see them find the middle ground — getting a lot better by shopping at the top of the market without having to blow the budget.