Along with another arm for the bullpen, could the Astros target a catcher before the trade deadline?
When Brian McCann underwent right knee surgery on July 3rd, the veteran catcher was expected to miss four-to-six weeks. All of a sudden the Astros were surprisingly thin at the position. And while the timeframe for McCann’s return has not been changed, there has been trade deadline chatter.
Enter Wilson Ramos of the Rays.
On the surface the interest in Ramos makes sense. The Astros current catcher depth consists of Max Stassi and Tim Federowicz with Evan Gattis as the emergency option in the majors. There is also Garrett Stubbs with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies. But all four players do not have the prolonged history of success as a major league catcher like McCann. But Ramos does have that history of being a successful catcher with the Nationals. While he did miss the first half of the 2017 season as he came back from ACL surgery, Ramos has played at an All-Star level for the Rays in 2018.
Ramos by the numbers in 2018
307 PA, 14 HR, 29 R, 22 BB, 59 SO, 130 OPS+
Ramos has obviously earned his second All-Star nomination for his career. With the bat alone, he would be a valuable addition for any team. In terms of pitch framing though, Ramos has not been any better than Stassi.
Pitch framing comparison in 2018
Stassi: 11.7 framing runs
Ramos: -0.1 framing runs
That said, we cannot quantify Ramos’ entire value to a pitching staff and how he helps call games. As a veteran catcher with a history of success in Washington and Tampa Bay though, Ramos is definitely an alluring option for interested clubs.
Alas, the Astros have a bit of a catcher identity crisis on the horizon. As we all can reason, the team likely desires to become a bit younger and more athletic at the position. McCann, who will be a free-agent following the season, is in his age-34 season. He could bounce back from his right knee surgery and continue to be a quality option. Or not as he is 34-years old. It is not even a guarantee that the two sides would agree on a new contract during the offseason. If the Astros are being prudent about the future, then acquiring a younger catcher makes sense.
Ramos can fill that need for the Astros, at least for another season or two. But someone else who is even younger can also do the job; however, the price to acquire J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins will likely be sky high.
Realmuto is in his age-27 season for the Marlins and is also a 2018 All-Star like Ramos.
Realmuto by the numbers in 2018
290 PA, 12 HR, 45 R, 16 BB, 55 SO, 156 OPS+
The first-time All-Star catcher was rumored to be a player of interest for the Astros last offseason, but nothing of signficance ever materialzied from the chatter.
Like Ramos, Realmuto would be another proven bat in the lineup. And the Marlins’ catcher does have a slightly higher framing runs (0.2) than Ramos (-0.1). Again, both catchers are still below Stassi in this regard for 2018. It may also come down to how the Astros view Realmuto in regards to handling the pitching staff and calling games. Quantifying a catcher’s entire game is still a work in progress.
The decision between the two catchers — FOR ANY TEAM — likely comes down to two factors.
The contract status beyond 2018
The cost of acquisition and future value
One draw to Realmuto over Ramos is the contract situation as the Marlins’ star is not eligible for free agency until 2021. In other words, he is under more cost control, even when you would account for the arbitration seasons. He is also only 27-years old.
On the other hand, Ramos is a free-agent following the 2018 season. If he continues to perform like he has this year, then the Rays’ catcher will likely earn himself a nice pay raise for a couple of seasons.
Despite both players being All-Stars, the package to acquire Ramos should be significantly less than Realmuto. In lieu of at least three highly regarded prospects for the Marlins, the Rays can likely be enticed by one or two prospects. But Ramos does have an injury history whereas Realmuto doesn’t.
For the Astros specifically, there are five points to consider in this catcher situation.
The organization’s projections Stassi and Stubbs in the short- and long-term.
Realistic expectations for McCann’s recovery.
Potential postseason workload along with finishing the regular season.
The difference in value between a possible rental compared to a long-term fixture.
Amount of value gained and lost in terms of major league performance and minor league prospects.
General manager Jeff Luhnow and the front office tend to concentrate on the value exchanging hands in trades. But it can’t be disputed that both catchers would fulfill an immediate need on this year’s team. After all, there is no guarantee McCann will be his 2017 self to finish the season. And will Stassi and company hold up heading into the postseason? All of these factors along with the cost of acquition must be weighed appropiately.
At this juncture though, I am not sure what the Astros should do. Personally, I would probably concentrate my efforts unto Ramos and see if an extension can be worked out later. But the upside of Realmuto is difficult to ignore. The farm system has plenty of talent that can be utlized in trades. But Stassi has impressed this season and gives me reason to pause about a possible catcher acquisition of this magnitude.