Here’s what the Detroit Tigers’ signing of catcher Wilson Ramos means for 2021

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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It’s no surprise, but the Detroit Tigers haven’t been assertive in free agency this winter. And general manager Al Avila didn’t alter his approach when searching for a catcher.

Thus, the usual wait-and-see mode before finally landing a short-term upgrade: On Tuesday, the Tigers signed 33-year-old Wilson Ramos to a one-year, $2 million contract. His deal is agreed upon but won’t be officially announced until he passes his physical.

The 11-year veteran played 45 games for the New York Mets in 2020, hitting .239 with five home runs and 15 RBIs. In the 2019 season, Ramos hit .288 with 14 homers and 73 RBIs, with 69 strikeouts and 44 walks, in 141 games.

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Here are five thoughts about the Ramos signing.

Better than nothing

Simply, the Tigers needed a catcher, and they got one. Entering spring training with Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner, Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase was feasible but not the best-case scenario. Avila wasn’t going to chase J.T. Realmuto or ex-Tiger James McCann — Realmuto got five years, $115.5 million from the Philadelphia Phillies this week; McCann earned four years, $40.6 million from the Mets last month — regardless of how much the fans begged on social media. .

Also, Avila wasn’t going to get aggressive in the catcher market, so — voila! — he ended up with Ramos on a cheap contract. It’s an upgrade on offense from Austin Romine last season. (Romine signed last week with the Chicago Cubs for $1.5 million.)

Ramos isn’t going to carry them to the postseason or scoop up an MVP award, but he will hit the ball hard, pop about 15 home runs and limit strikeouts. 

If you still believe in Jake Rogers, this is good

The Tigers have hope for the 25-year-old Rogers. He is still considered a prospect, ranked No. 12 in the farm system by MLB Pipeline, but he turns 26 in April. Rogers stumbled in 2019 with a .125 batting average in 35 games and hasn’t seen the majors since.

The Tigers were interested in Jason Castro, but he went to the Houston Astros for two years, $7 million. If Detroit didn’t believe that Rogers has a chance of starting full-time in 2022, it might have been more likely to enter a bidding war. Castro could have held them over until Dillon Dingler, a 2020 second-round pick out of Ohio State, is ready.

But Avila didn’t fight the Astros for Castro’s services. And he sees a chance, even if it’s slim, for his aging prospect to carve out a role. This season will provide clarity on Rogers’ future, as Ramos and Rogers should end up working in tandem for most of the 2021 season.

But it’s not great for the defense

Ramos’ defense is the black eye of this signing. He was worth minus-11 defensive runs saved (DRS) in 2019 and minus-one DRS in 2020, again, in only 45 games. Two years ago, he allowed 10 passed balls. Last year, he had four.

In 2020, Ramos had a 29.6% strike rate on pitches framed low in the strike zone, putting him at the bottom of the league. (The league average was 49.5%.) Also, he wasn’t very good in either of the bottom corners, with a 22.8% strike rate inside and 15.8% outside. However, he is much better up in the zone.

Overall, his 44.8% strike rate for pitches framed last season was the worst in his career. If those defensive metrics were a bit much, just know this: Ramos isn’t likely to steal many strikes behind the plate.

Does Syndergaard issue mean anything?

Back in July 2019, Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard got tired of pitching to Ramos and fought to get Tomas Nido as his personal catcher. Unsatisfied with the organization’s answer, he held a meeting that September with then-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen to express his displeasure.

Syndergaard seemed to believe Nido called a better game and helped him get pitches low in the zone called for strikes. It’s unclear how frustrated Syndergaard actually was about the situation. Ramos didn’t seem to care.

“It’s not like I would be mad with my teammate or that situation,” Ramos said to the New York Post in September 2019. “I’m a professional and I love my job and I love what I’m doing, but sometimes you feel good pitching to this guy or that guy. That has happened before.”

Does this mean anything for the Tigers’ young arms, namely Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, as they take the next steps in their careers?

Trade piece? Maybe

Don’t forget Ramos has a career .274 batting average. He made the 2018 All-Star Game by hitting .297 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs over 78 games in the first half. That year, the Tampa Bay Rays traded him to the Phillies for cash.

Even with similar numbers, Ramos won’t gift the Tigers a haul of MLB-ready players to further the rebuilding process. But success leading up to the trade deadline could help the Tigers create a trade package, sending more than one player to a playoff contender. Or they’ll get cash considerations.

Either way, based on track record, there’s more potential trade value in Ramos than right-hander Jose Urena, signed by the Tigers to a one-year, $3.25 million deal earlier this offseason. It’s more difficult to foresee Urena evolving into a tradeable asset, considering he owns a 5.25 ERA in 108 innings across the last two seasons.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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