On Tuesday morning, the bad news that no one in NatsTown wanted to hear was announced: Wilson Ramos suffered an ACL tear in his right knee which will require surgery and not only will he be out for the remainder of this season, but the injury will likely severely impact his 2017 season — and career — as well.
In short, it was worst-case scenario for Ramos and the Nats, both in the short- and long-term.
Obviously, this news means Ramos is out for the playoffs, crippling an already depleted lineup. Health is one of the biggest factors going into the second season, and the Nats don’t have it.
They were hurting already with Stephen Strasburg’s elbow issues, Joe Ross’ return from his strained shoulder, Daniel Murphy's injured buttock, and Bryce Harper’s myriad issues (neck/shoulder, now thumb — needlessly injured over the weekend due to the Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang’s stupidity).
But now, they’ll be missing one of the most productive catchers — offensively and defensively — in the game. Ramos is irreplaceable with someone from the organization.
I don’t want to disparage Jose Lobaton, who is a fine "Sunday catcher," or Pedro Severino, a decent but nowhere near elite prospect. They are both reasonably sound defensive catchers. Lobaton’s strength is as a receiver and pitch-framer. He doesn’t have much of an arm and can’t hit a lick. Scouts praise Severino’s footwork, blocking ability and arm strength, but again, question whether he’ll ever hit enough to serve as even a backup long-term in the bigs.
Ramos, on the other hand, had a breakout year at the plate, hitting like a corner infielder (.307/.354/.850, 22 HR, 80 RBI) while playing Gold Glove caliber defense. He was, simply, one of the Nats’ three position-player MVPs (along with Murphy and Trea Turner) this season, and the hole he leaves in the batting order is huge.
I imagine Dusty Baker will rotate Lobaton and Severino in the playoff lineup. Whichever catcher starts that day will invariably hit eighth, with the ripple effect meaning Ryan Zimmerman (.219/.273/.375) moves up to sixth and Danny Espinosa (.210/.308/.379) seventh. Ramos’ production is missing, and it moves much inferior bats up a notch as well.
The sixth through ninth spots in the Nats’ order will be an offensive vacuum. The Nats can only hope that Murphy and Harper get healthy quickly and the top five spots can generate enough runs to carry their pitching through.
Long-term, this is bad for both player and team as well.
Ramos was set up for a very lucrative free agent contract. He’s reportedly already turned down a low-ball offer from the team. It’s hard to imagine teams lining up at the door to offer a 240-lb catcher with at least three major knee surgeries (he needed two to clean up his ACL tear in 2012) a lucrative. multi-year deal, especially since his 2017 season probably won’t start until the All-Star break at the earliest.
For most catchers, this second knee injury would probably signal a defensive shift to first base, but Ramos’ lack of mobility already is just going to be further impaired with a twice-reconstructed knee. It’s just a rotten deal for him personally all the way around.
He’ll probably have to sign an incentive-laden two-year deal somewhere and hope he can return to his production level from this season.
As for the team, they were going to have to pay for a catcher this offseason either way, whether it was re-signing Ramos or on the free agent market. Now, they have no choice. They don’t have a catcher in the system ready to take over everyday duties.
Spencer Kieboom is a decent prospect, but he’s 25 already and hit just .230/.324/.314 with 11 doubles and five home runs in 94 games at Double-A Harrisburg this season. Jakson Reetz has one year of Low-A under his belt. We’ve already talked about Lobaton and Severino, and 31-year-old Jhonatan Solano is barely worth mentioning.
Matt Wieters, Jason Castro and Jonathan Lucroy headline the list of free agents available at the position this offseason. Ramos, certainly, would have topped that list, if healthy.
So yeah, this was a worst-case scenario all around. It’s just a shame that the capricious nature of this game can give and take away so quickly. After all his hard work and effort to become one of the best all-around players at his position, Ramos was poised to become one of the most sought-after players on the market. Now, after this injury, in a rainy, almost inconsequential late-September game, his entire career could be in jeopardy.