Wilson Ramos was three months from becoming a free agent when he felt his left hamstring tighten in July while he ran to first base. Instantly, Ramos was brought back to 2016, when he tore his ACL just a week before hitting free agency.
"I was really scared," he said.
Ramos, just as he was in 2016, was primed to enter the market as one of the premier hitting catchers. And again, it seemed possible that he would be a free agent on the disabled list. Ramos, who joined the Phillies at the trade deadline, was determined to finish the season on the active roster. And he did.
He played with two troubled hamstrings, hit .337 with a .879 OPS in his six weeks with the Phillies, and had the highest OPS among all major-league catchers. Ramos, for the first time in his career, will be a free agent without being on the DL. And his free-agent path will likely lead him away from the Phillies.
"What happened in 2016 is the reason I didn't talk about my free agency with anyone until today," Ramos said Sept. 30 as he packed up his locker after the team's final game. "Now, I can say I'm a free agent and I'm healthy."
The offseason, Ramos said, is enough time to strengthen his hamstrings before spring training begins. But the Phillies would need some serious convincing before they offer him a multiyear deal. Ramos will turn 32 next August and seems better suited for the American League, where he played before the Phillies acquired him. He could keep the strain off his legs by finding a balance between catching and being a designated hitter.
Plus, the Phillies have confidence in Jorge Alfaro, who is six years younger than Ramos and will not be a free agent until after the 2023 season. The Phillies should look this winter to pair Alfaro with a veteran backup who can help guide Alfaro but will come at a cheaper price — and less commitment — than Ramos.
Alfaro, in his first full season, proved to be a skillful pitch framer and athletic defender, but he needs to make great progress in his pitch blocking and throwing accuracy. He also had the highest strikeout rate in the National League and just a .324 on-base percentage.
Alfaro did provide flashes — both at the plate and behind it — of being a legitimate major-league catcher. The Phillies seem to be invested in him. But it would be hard to see him grow if he's buried behind Ramos. And Ramos has little interest in being a backup.
"I feel good right now. I'm still young, and I'm 100 percent sure that I can play every day," Ramos said. "So that's what I want to do. My goal is to play every day. That's what I want to do."
Ramos packed his belongings last month into an oversize moving box and departed Citizens Bank Park. He returned home to Miami and planned to rest for a few weeks before returning to the same gym near the beach where he prepared for the last few seasons. Ramos will focus on strengthening his legs, which will be the key to his playing every day.
He said he enjoyed his time with the Phillies and "it's going to be fun watching this team next year." The finish was tough, but Ramos said, "they'll be back strong and more focused."
He sounded almost like an observer, looking at the Phillies from the outside. He wants to play every day, and that just does not seem likely to happen with the Phillies.