John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Mets might be prepared to deal Zack Wheeler this month, but their priority at the trade deadline ought to be trying to undo their mistake of signing Wilson Ramos last winter by finding a team that will take him off their hands.
Ramos has been worse than expected defensively, more immobile than the Mets imagined when they signed him to a two-year, $19 million contract after first trying to trade for J.T. Realmuto, and then deeming free agent Yasmani Grandal too expensive.
The Mets knew Ramos wasn't great behind the plate, but they believed his offense would make up for his deficiencies. After a slow start, he is doing about what they hoped, hitting .271 with nine home runs and a .758 OPS.
However, it's hard to justify keeping the 31-year old catcher when your top two starting pitchers prefer pitching to Tomas Nido -- and the Mets are accommodating those requests.
Despite his public comments to the contrary throughout the season, Mickey Callaway has long since given in to Jacob deGrom's wish to make Nido his personal catcher, and now he's apparently doing the same for Noah Syndergaard in an effort maximize the effectiveness of his sinker.
After the Mets' 4-2 win over the Yankees Tuesday night, Callaway downplayed the situation when asked by reporters about it, saying he's just trying to create the best matchup for his pitchers.
However, according to a source, new pitching coach Phil Regan has convinced Syndergaard to rely heavily on his two-seam fastball, with its good sinking action. That's what he did in his most recent start on Sunday, when he threw 48 two-seamers -- his highest total in a start this season.
And part of that equation is having a catcher who can handle pitches in the dirt.
"Noah has tried to pitch up in the zone more this year," the source said, "but it's clear he's at his best when he's attacking with the two-seamer down. He needs to pitch to his strength, but to do that he needs to be able to trust that he has a catcher back there who can block balls consistently."
It's obvious that Nido is that guy. As Callaway told the NY Post on Tuesday, "He receives the ball down better, so it's something we have to continue to do."
That might be praise for Nido but it's also a commentary on Ramos, who has been shockingly poor at blocking balls in the dirt, often lazily making backhand stabs rather than moving to keep the ball in front of him in textbook blocking style.
In addition, scouts have noted that Ramos tends to set up for a pitch earlier than he should at times, potentially tipping off what type of pitch is coming. They've also seen him sometimes sets up with a wider base when he's called for a breaking ball, which again is something teams could pick up on and signal verbally to a hitter.
"He was always an offense-first catcher but the defense has slipped a notch this year," one scout told me on Wednesday. "He's a big guy who's had major knee surgeries, and he's over 30 (he turns 32 on Aug. 10th), so it's not really that surprising."
With that in mind, Ramos won't be in great demand on the trade market, and indeed the scout said the Mets would have to be prepared to eat at least some portion of the remaining $14 million or so on the contract (he's owed $10.25 million next season).
That shouldn't stop GM Brodie Van Wagenen from making every effort to deal him, however. Scouts say Ramos' bat still has value, especially for an American League team that could use him as a backup and a DH as well.
"You wouldn't be getting much in return if you did trade him," the scout said, "but I wouldn't think that would be the priority for the Mets."
No, the priority would be giving the 25-year old Nido as much playing time as possible in trying to determine if he can hit enough to justify going with him as the No. 1 catcher in the years ahead, while getting rid of as much of Ramos' contract as possible so the Mets can move on next year without him.
"I understand why they did it," a scout said of signing Ramos last winter. "But they really need to decide who they are. They came in to the season with the idea they were built around their starting rotation, so they should have had a catcher who makes that rotation the best it can be. Instead, they have a guy who weakens them.
"So if they're still going to try to be a pitching-driven team, they need to be better defensively. Not just at catching, either, but it should start with catching. Right now, Nido is solid and young enough that he should continue to improve, so he needs to play."
The bottom line is that, looking back, Van Wagenen should have found a way to make a trade with the Marlins for Realmuto, who isn't hitting as much as the Phillies hoped, but is living up to his reputation defensively, having another outstanding season behind the plate.
Too late for that now, but Van Wagenen could at least minimize the Ramos mistake if he can find a way to trade the veteran catcher, the sooner the better.