The maturation of Wilson Ramos into an All-Star and one of baseball's best catchers has been a joy to watch for many, especially those who know the detailed story of what he's been through both on and off the field during his seven-year MLB career.
Just in the last few months, Ramos has dealt with the death of a close family member, a surgery that required him to leave the Nats briefly during spring training and the unknowns of a contract year.
Free agency can weigh heavily on some players, but not Ramos. With the way he's played, you wouldn't know he's been going through anything out of the ordinary at all.
As good as it feels for Nationals fans to see Ramos reach his potential, imagine being his longtime teammate, a pitcher who has worked with him for five years like Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez has seen Ramos power through a laundry list of injuries from a torn ACL and MCL, to hamstring pulls to a broken hamate bone in his hand.
For so long Ramos was sidelined, watching from the dugout. Now he's not only durable, he's dominating in all aspects of the game. He's got the best catcher's ERA (3.28), the best batting average (.327), most RBI (48) and highest OPS (.903) among all MLB backstops.
"I think what people need to understand about Wilson is that he came from working back a couple of injuries to now, where he's showing you that he wants to be a full-time catcher. He wants to be that captain behind the dish," Gonzalez said.
"Every day he's got a routine. It's impressive. Every day he walks in here and he's immediately getting worked on. He's immediately doing his training. He's showing that he's a veteran to this staff. His presence is known here not only off the field, on the field, in the clubhouse and even when he's up at bat."
Ramos has spoken openly this year about the death of his grandfather, Jesus Campos. Ramos has referenced him after big games, saying he wants to honor his memory this season.
Gonzalez has been impressed with Ramos' resolve in the time since his grandfather's death.
"He's a guy that can look at the obstacle in front of him and say 'I'm going to find a way to get around this,'" Gonzalez said. "The good thing is, we treat him like family. We understand the situation and we embrace him. That's what makes it easier for him to walk into this clubhouse with his head held high and go to work."
It's a real question now whether Ramos will be in Washington beyond this year. The 28-year-old is setting himself up to be one of the most highly sought after free agents this winter, a do-it-all star at a position where offense comes at a premium.
Ramos could become one of the highest paid players at his position. Right now Buster Posey of the Giants leads all catchers with a $20.7 million salary for 2016. Behind him is Brian McCann of the Yankees ($17M), Matt Wieters of the Orioles ($15.8M), Russell Martin of the Blue Jays ($15M) and Yadier Molina of the Cardinals ($14.2M). Those are all very good players, but Ramos has the best numbers this season.
The Nationals, like any team, could use a guy like Ramos for the next few years, but they are starting to stockpile large contracts. Next year Max Scherzer is set to make $22.1 million. Jayson Werth - who turns 38 next May - will make $21 million. Ryan Zimmerman is on the books for $14 million and Stephen Strasburg's extension will kick in, raising his salary to $18.3 million. That's not to mention the longterm financial flexibility they will need to retain Bryce Harper, who could break a record with his next contract.
There's some uncertainty about Ramos' future and Gonzalez would like him to stay in D.C.
"He'd be a great asset to any organization. I really hope he stays here," Gonzalez said.
"This is where he is very happy. He's a great guy. The fans love him. He's The Buffalo. Who doesn't love The Buffalo?"
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