John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It seemed to make for an awkward clubhouse dynamic at the time, but maybe Noah Syndergaard's preference for a catcher other than Wilson Ramos will prove beneficial to the Mets in 2020.
As it is, there is belief around the team that Ramos was motivated to work harder at his defense in the second half of last season -- after a horrendous first half -- in part by his awareness that neither Syndergaard nor Jacob deGrom wanted to pitch to him.
At an appearance in New York on Thursday, Ramos essentially admitted as much, telling reporters, "I heard a lot of bad things about me behind the plate but I'm going to focus on getting better."
A Mets' source, meanwhile, told me Ramos was also aware that management wasn't happy with him at some point last season, with the front office believing his defensive regression from 2018 to 2019 was due at least partly to a slippage in work habits and commitment.
"There was some concern that he was taking his defense for granted," was the way the Mets' source put it. "Not that he wasn't putting any effort into it, because he's a prideful guy, but maybe he didn't realize he's at an age as a catcher, especially for a big man who has had knee problems, that he's got to do more to be prepared and able to handle the demands of the position.
"He needed to be more committed to the game plan, to receiving the ball in a way that helps his pitchers, especially the ball down, and blocking pitches with his body. He was made aware of that but maybe hearing that pitchers weren't happy with him made an impression because he worked harder and got better as the season went along."
Ramos is never going to be great defensively, but a scout from an opposing National League team agreed the veteran catcher did become less of a liability over the second half of last season.
"He cleaned up some things," was the way the scout put it. "He was lazy in the way he was receiving the ball and even setting up too early, giving away location. He'll never be real mobile behind the plate but he didn't stab at as many balls in the second half, and he made a better effort to block balls in the dirt.
"It just looked like he made more of an effort in general defensively. If he does that he's adequate back there, which is good enough because of what he gives you offensively."
In any case, Ramos' second-half improvement seems to have been a factor in convincing the Mets to stick with him for the second year of his two-year, $19 million contract.
That or they simply didn't want to shell out big bucks for Yasmani Grandal, the catcher they took a run at as a free agent a year ago before signing Ramos instead.
Grandal, of course, signed this week for four years, $73 million with the White Sox, after taking a one-year deal with the Brewers for 2019. He would have improved the Mets both offensively and defensively, if indeed they could have traded Ramos to clear the path behind the plate for him.
Instead the Mets may look for a low-cost catcher to pair with Ramos, perhaps try to lighten his workload a little more to keep his legs fresh, which they believe is essential to get maximum production from him, especially defensively.
Or they'll stick with Tomas Nido, a solid defender, as the backup catcher, but either way the Mets will need Ramos to play at a high level if they're going to be serious contenders in the NL East next season.
It was no coincidence the 32-year-old catcher had his hottest month of the season, hitting .432 in August, when the Mets were playing their best baseball, going 17-11 to make a run at a wild-card berth.
Ideally he'd give them a little more pop, especially since he is so slow-footed, considering Ramos hit only 14 home runs and 19 doubles, compared to 103 singles. He did mash lefthanded pitching, hitting .346 with a .946 OPS, however, and he produced in some big spots, hitting .307 with runners in scoring position.
All of that makes him one of the better-hitting catchers in the majors, which is great as long his defense doesn't become the issue it did last year, to the point where Syndergaard, in particular, obviously wasn't comfortable throwing to Ramos.
Syndergaard's preference leaking publicly may have been for the best if it pushes Ramos to be better defensively.
The Mets seem to believe it will, and surely it was a good sign that Ramos himself seems to have taken the criticism to heart.
"I learn from the bad things," he told reporters Thursday. "I take those comments to help me to get better. It will motivate me to keep working hard."
The Mets' brass apparently has communicated that message to Ramos as well: that is, unlike last season, he needs to buy in defensively from the start in 2020.