In a Sea of Catching Options, Wilson Ramos ‘Commanded the Room’

Before Wilson Ramos put on his new Mets jersey on Tuesday at Citi Field, his employers explored all of their options.

They talked to the Miami Marlins about the All-Star catcher J. T. Realmuto but could not stomach the asking price in a trade — particularly after dipping into the farm system earlier in the month to trade for closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano.

They met with Yasmani Grandal, a free agent, in Arizona. To do so, a contingent that included, among others, the chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon; the new general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen; and the former third baseman David Wright slipped away from baseball’s annual winter meetings in Las Vegas.

A few days later back in Las Vegas, much of the same group sat down with Ramos. That 45-minute get-together, and Ramos’s price and skills, led to the Mets signing Ramos to a two-year $19 million contract.

“He commanded the room,” Van Wagenen said at a news conference on Tuesday. “As you guys can see, he’s a pretty physical presence. His poise and confidence were extremely compelling to us as we sat across from him.”

Ramos said: “I felt really good seeing the general manager and owner of the team sitting with me in a room. That gave me confidence that I could help this team and this rotation.”

Those face-to-face meetings, in addition to the presence of Wright and the solicitation of other players’ opinions, are examples of Van Wagenen’s style. Since jumping to general manager from agent, he has talked often about contending for the playoffs in 2019 and prioritizing players.

Not only did Ramos, a two-time All-Star, check a lot of needed boxes — a right-handed hitter for a lineup full of left-handers, a productive offensive player for a streaky lineup, a stabilizing force for a shaky catching situation — he came at a relatively lower cost than Realmuto and Grandal.

Realmuto would probably have cost key players in a trade, and Grandal would probably have cost more money, and a compensatory draft pick and international bonus pool space because he rejected a qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ramos simply cost dollars.

It also helped that the Mets considered Ramos, 31, a better fit than Grandal, 30, in several ways. The easygoing Ramos, who is called the Buffalo for his 6-foot-1 245-pound frame rather than his personality, has a better reputation in the clubhouse.

“I want to talk to guys on the phone,” Van Wagenen said of free-agent players. “I want to look at them face to face. The players that are willing to do that are going to put themselves in a better position for us. It’s hard to agent an agent. So I like the opportunity to sit in front of players and make my own evaluations.”

While Grandal is perhaps better defensively and a better hitter against right-handed pitching, the Mets had a glaring weakness against left-handed pitching last season. Van Wagenen said Ramos, who has a .301 career average against left-handers, reduced the pressure to add a right-handed-hitting outfielder.

During Ramos’s meeting with the Mets, he said team officials did not mention his offense. They asked about his leadership of a pitching staff, his twice surgically repaired right knee and his off-season workouts.

“They know what I can do with my bat,” said Ramos, who hit .306 with 15 home runs between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies last season. “That made me feel excited because I need to think of only one thing: that’s behind the plate.”

In vetting Ramos, in addition to the other options, Van Wagenen said he spoke to some of Ramos’s former coaches and Washington Nationals teammates. When he was an agent, Van Wagenen represented Ramos’s former teammates Ian Desmond, Drew Storen and Ryan Zimmerman.

Van Wagenen said that the Mets, in addition to giving Ramos a physical, also examined his medical file and video of his off-season workouts, and felt comfortable that Ramos could stay healthy. Ramos, who has caught more than 120 games in a season only twice because of injuries, said not having to worry about the rehabilitation of his knee this off-season had helped him improve his overall fitness.

And there was the presence of Wright in the meetings with the catchers. The former Mets captain ended his playing career in September because of numerous physical ailments, but team officials have worked to make use of his expertise from 15 years in the major leagues. Van Wagenen said last week that Wright provided a needed perspective on matters such as what is important in a teammate and an opposing pitcher.

On defense, the Mets valued Ramos’s strong throwing arm, which will help another one of their weaknesses: stolen bases. They liked his desire to teach young pitchers and his experience catching Cy Young Award-winning pitchers such as Blake Snell in Tampa Bay and Max Scherzer in Washington. Ramos has caught three no-hitters: two by Scherzer and one by Jordan Zimmermann.

“They have good arms,” Ramos said of a Mets rotation led by Jacob deGrom, the 2018 National League Cy Young Award winner, and Noah Syndergaard. “I want to put my experience behind the plate to help them and win a lot of games.”

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