In all this hoopla about locking up Joe Mauer (and believe me, it's deserved and I'm involved), I can only help but stop and wonder what Wilson Ramos's reaction to this is. He knew this was coming, he had to -- but if one of our top overall prospects is a catcher on the cusp of being ready for the majors, where does that leave us now?
Ok, that's a real picture of him.
Regardless of what we end up doing with him, Ramos has proven that he's for real and that he deserves to play and not just be buried on a depth chart. He could likely be a starting catcher on almost any other major league team; the talent is just that thin out there (I just did a fantasy baseball draft, and believe me, the pickings are slim), and from all we've seen in his minor league numbers, the Winter League, and this spring, he's ready for a real challenge -- he doesn't need seasoning at AAA, maybe it would be useful but it's more about keeping his service clock from starting.
I've been advocating for him to be the backup to Joe, and while Seth Stohs obviously disagrees with me -- and we've discussed this once or twice on podcasts and disagreed as well -- we can't just shove him under a rug in AAA forever. You can already tell everyone else is asking this question because Joel Sherman of the New York Post is already sniffing it out. Ramos is going to be in the majors one way or another and the real question is if it's with us.
RAMOS AS TRADE BAIT
This is the first idea that naturally comes to mind. A top prospect at a premium position essentially ready for the majors, good with the bat and the glove. We could obviously get a closer for him to address our hole there, but that would probably be shortsighted -- why not reach higher? If he's dangled on a string just think of the suitors that come calling: Mets, Phillies, Blue Jays, Rays, Astros, A's, Mariners, I could keep going. Think about culling through their rosters or prospects and picking a pupu platter you like most.
I know what I'm getting for lunch.
But unless the incredible happens and the market for stud catchers suddenly dries up (not going to happen), these people will still be lining up at our door during the season and next offseason, so there's really no rush to be foolish and trade him away.
What if Mauer goes down with a serious injury and we're forced to rely on a platoon of Morales/Butera for the forseeable future? Or, what if instead of a serious injury Mauer just keeps getting hampered by small injuries that indicate he really needs to move out from the behind the plate soon? Having Ramos in your back pocket is essential. And if none of this happens and the right offer/need comes along, you can deal.
RAMOS STAYS A TWIN
But how? There's really only three ways that would work:
1. Ramos learns a new position. That's the obvious first alternative. You want a bat like his in the lineup every day so no way is he just a bench player. But where does he go? Corner outfield is a lot of ground for a catcher to cover and we've got plenty of outfield prospects that will bring up this conundrum once again in the next couple years. 3B? You need to be a cat over there and while he might have some quick reflexes from behind the plate, he probably doesn't have the side-to-side movement necessary for the position. Most people who have decent scooping abilities but aren't that agile would find themselves at 1B (see Sweeney, Mike; Giambi, Jason; and Thome, Jim for instance). But if there's a second position on this roster we've got someone fixed at it's 1B. This only presents itself as an option if Morneau gets traded or we don't re-up with him several years down the line. DH is the only alternative, but then you waste a great glove by not letting him see the field.
Look at those mad fielding skills!
2. Ramos is a bench bat. What a waste. Talent like this needs to play everyday. True he's there as a threat late in the game and when he spells Mauer our offense will still be quite potent, but enslaving him as a backup catcher is a complete last resort. He'd be more valuable being traded and bringing us useful everyday pieces that contribute in 162 games rather than 50.
3. Ramos and Mauer are both the everyday catcher. When your two best players are catchers, why not let them both catch "everyday". Especially when your concern over handing out a huge 8 year contract to Mauer is primarily hinged on the fact that he might get injured from the wear-and-tear from catching every day. Instead of having a back-up catcher, you can have two starting catchers and rotate them out frequently enough that they each catch only around 80 games a year, and whoever doesn't catch can DH. This is my pet option. It utilizes the fact that both of them have plus gloves, plus arms, and plus bats and also increases the longevity of both of their careers without necessarily limiting plate appearances. Just because this isn't a traditional roster recipe doesn't mean it won't work. Kubel will quickly become too expensive for us, and having two everyday fielders rotate the DH spot while the other plays behind the plate solves the DH hole (it's what the Angels tried to do with Hunter, Matthews Jr., Guerrero, and Rivera).
Your thoughts? (Or are you still just thinking about Joe?)