A week into his Phillies career, this fan base has warmed to Wilson Ramos to the point that many are wondering whether they'll try to keep him around past this season.
This question started pouring in the morning after Ramos' historic, 3-extra-base-hit, 3-RBI debut.
Will they? Should they?
Ramos' last contract
Ramos, who turned 31 on Aug. 10, is a free agent after the season. He'll be coming off a two-year, $12.5 million contract that paid him approximately $8.5 million in 2018.
He signed that deal with the Rays after his All-Star 2016 season with the Nationals, when he hit .307 with an .850 OPS, 22 homers and 80 RBI.
If you're wondering why an All-Star catcher signed such a relatively inexpensive deal, it's because he tore his ACL on Sept. 26 of that 2016 season. Tampa Bay knew it wouldn't have him until late in 2017. The Rays went in essentially paying that $12.5 million for 1½ seasons of Ramos.
That figure is necessary to look back to as an idea of what Ramos will and should be looking for this time around.
Ramos has only built upon his résumé since signing that deal. Over the last three seasons, he has the second-highest batting average (.296) and OPS (.828) among catchers, and that's despite 224 below-average plate appearances when he came back from injury last summer.
The free-agent landscape
Barring a serious injury, Ramos will not just be the top catcher on the free-agent market, he'll be one of the top hitters, period. There's the Bryce Harper-Manny Machado tier, and then the group that includes Ramos, Nelson Cruz and Daniel Murphy.
Powerful, switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal is also a free agent but it seems unlikely the Dodgers let him get away, which means every team looking to upgrade behind the plate will be placing a call to Ramos' agent.
In December 2013, the Yankees signed a then-29-year-old Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract.
In November 2014, the Blue Jays signed a then-31-year-old Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract.
Neither deal has gone as planned. And, as we saw last offseason, the free-agent landscape has changed. When it comes to these lengthy, high-priced contracts, teams are more reluctant now than they were over the last decade. Carlos Santana's $60 million deal was the fourth-largest for a position player this past offseason.
A better template for a deal is the one signed by Francisco Cervelli in May of 2016, a three-year, $31 million extension with the Pirates. Cervelli was the same age. Ramos is a superior player so he will make a higher annual salary.
Something in the three-year, $48 million vicinity seems realistic for Ramos. If the Phillies frontload the contract, perhaps they can get Ramos to agree to make the third year of the deal a mutual option with a buyout.
The Phillies have plenty of money to spend. The issue is, if the free-agent negotiations for Machado and Harper take weeks or longer, another team could swoop in and sign Ramos. So if the Phillies do prioritize bringing him back, they'd have to have these negotiations separately and irrespective of each other and be willing to spend on Ramos even without knowing whether they'll also land a bigger fish.
What about Alfaro?
While the Phillies were supposed to be better in 2018 than they were in 2017, they went into this year looking to learn about many of their young players. It was why Jorge Alfaro was the starting catcher and why the Phillies felt comfortable carrying two young catchers together.
Alfaro has shown flashes of power at the plate and athleticism defensively and on the bases. He's also swung-and-missed at a higher rate than anyone in the majors and struck out at a higher rate than anyone in the majors. Alfaro's punched out 120 times in 322 plate appearances. He's struck out 9 percent more often this season than Ryan Howard did in his career.
Alfaro is out of options, so his fate here is either as the starting catcher or backup. If wins and losses didn't matter for the 2018 Phillies, he would have continued to be their No. 1. But the Phillies arrived earlier than expected and are contending in late-August, so you have to go with the players that give you the best chance to win on a daily basis. It's why Asdrubal Cabrera became the regular shortstop over Scott Kingery and why Ramos will play two-thirds of the remaining games, if not a bit more.
So ... should they re-sign Ramos?
Signing Ramos to a two- or three-year deal would not permanently stunt Alfaro's growth. It would give Alfaro time to develop in the majors as a backup, to learn the little nuances from Ramos and focus on making more contact. On Friday night, Alfaro had a two-strike, broken bat bloop single off Noah Syndergaard to score a runner from third with less than two outs. Those are the kinds of ABs he needs to keep having, because if you're a National League team with a whiff-prone eight-hole hitter, you're essentially giving the opposing team two outs at the bottom of the order.
Gabe Kapler said this week that Ramos' stoicism has stood out and that Alfaro can learn from the veteran's mannerisms both behind the plate and during mound visits. He compared Ramos' impact on a young catcher to Jake Arrieta's on a young pitcher.
"He's almost stoic," Kapler said. "That's an important quality for a catcher to have. Pitchers want to be inspired, but they also want to calmed down."
Let's be real, though, if the Phillies do open the checkbook to re-sign Ramos, it will be because of his bat. That calming veteran presence is an added bonus.
Re-upping (a healthy) Ramos would be a logical move for a team in the Phillies' position — an ascending National League contender with offensive needs and young pitchers. There's no reason they should let him get away, unless an aggressive spender comes over the top and offers five years.