Just prior to the 2016 season, Washington Nationals fans heard the news that Wilson Ramos had undergone laser eye surgery. I’m sure that for most people, news of a player undergoing a relatively small surgery like this would probably go unnoticed. It’s very common for players to take care of medical business during the offseason so that it doesn’t interrupt any of their playing time. However, in this particular instance, this minor surgery ended up being career-altering.
I have had laser eye surgery. It was the best decision I ever made. I am able to do so many things without worrying about my glasses. The feeling that best described the days after my surgery is that everything seemed like it was in high definition. I could see so much better than even my glasses allowed me, and I did not have to worry about the nuisance of taking care of contact lenses.
For me, it was more about convenience and slightly improving my quality of life. I could easily slip on a pair of sunglasses without sacrificing vision, or read a book without worrying about forgetting my eyewear. I certainly don’t earn any more money right now than I did before I had my eyes fixed. It also didn’t make me any better at my job. But the full hit on the pocketbook was a price that was worth it to me.
But what is the value of corrective eye surgery to someone whose performance is directly related to seeing an object travelling at them at 100 mph? First, we’ll take a look at Ramos’ career before having his surgery.
Ramos has consistently put up good defensive numbers over his seven years in the majors, compiling 49.1 defensive runs above average for his career according to FanGraphs. However, his bat, over the past few seasons, had started to cool off.
During Ramos’ first three years with the Nationals, starting in 2011, he put up wRC+ (weighted runs created, park- and league-adjusted, scaled to an average of 100) figures of 111, 103 and 113, respectively. But, starting in 2014, his performance at the plate started plummeting as he notched wRC+ scores of 93 in 2014 and a miserable 63 in 2015. After starting his tenure with the Nats with so much promise, Nationals fans started to bite their nails as it became a question of how bad his hitting could get.
Following the 2015 season, Ramos revamped his offseason workout regimen. He hired a trainer, lost some fat and added muscle as well as started eating healthy. To top it off, on March 4, during spring training, he elected to have LASIK eye surgery to correct his vision. The results were almost instantaneous as he started ripping the cover off the ball in spring training, and carried his success into the regular season. He managed to almost double his wRC+ from 63 in 2015 to 124 in 2016 and nearly doubled his OPS+ from 66 in 2015 to 123. He did all this while maintaining his status as a plus catcher, saving 8.4 runs above average, by FanGraphs’ defensive metrics. According to Baseball Prospectus, Ramos saved 7.4 runs by his framing alone.
Ramos himself directly attributed his improvement in performance to his LASIK surgery. He claimed that he is able to pick up the ball easier as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and better identify pitches as they are coming at him. He can tell the difference between a curveball, a changeup, and a slider more quickly, which allows him to make better decisions in the batter’s box.
The Nationals were so impressed by Ramos’ performance that they tried to get him locked up before he hit the market as a free agent. In August, they reportedly made an offer of three years and just over $30 million to keep the “Buffalo” in a Nats uniform for several years. Ramos declined, assuming a bat like his behind the plate would fetch more on the open market. Many writers in the industry agreed with Ramos’ decision to decline the deal. He would soon come to regret that decision.
Unfortunately, on September 26th, while jumping to catch an errant throw on a relay against the Diamondbacks, Ramos landed awkwardly and tore his ACL. His sensational campaign was over and it was revealed he would require surgery to repair his knee. The timing could not have been worse for Ramos.
The Nationals, who would have loved to have him back pre-injury, could no longer take the financial risk to commit to him. The Nats are in “win now” mode and need someone to catch right away. The nature of the knee injury puts in doubt his future as a catcher, due to the stresses the position puts on a player’s legs. He went from turning down a three-year, $30-plus million contract from the Nationals to not receiving a one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer. The team deemed it too much money for any National League team to pay, as there’s no DH position to hide him as he rehabs.
Enter the Tampa Bay Rays onto the scene. In their search for low-cost quality players, they looked to the injured catcher to fit their needs. For the Rays, it made sense to sign Ramos at a reduced price. They would hope to get his potent bat in the lineup as a DH before he is able to return to catching duties, which buys him a bit more time to make sure he is fully recovered. Ramos ended up signing a contract for $12.5 million over two years with the Rays ($4 million in 2017, $8.5 million in 2018), an average of $6.25 million per year, a far cry from the $30+ million deal he turned down from the Nationals just a few months earlier.
Ramos’s injury makes it difficult to put a price on the value of having laser eye surgery. We do know that he turned down an offer that would have paid him almost as much annually ($10 million) as he has earned thus far in his career ($12.4 million). We can also say that it is likely the Nationals would have given him a qualifying offer if they weren’t able to work out a deal, had he not been injured. That awkward landing in a blowout loss cost him $17.5 million (the $30 million the Nationals reportedly offered him compared to the $12.5 million he’ll get from the Rays) at the very least.
For Ramos, this is not necessarily his last chance to land a big payday. If he is able to fully rehab that right knee and get back behind the plate, he will have the opportunity to sign at least one more big contract, and take full advantage of his laser-corrected vision. As long as he keeps playing great defense and keeps raking at the plate, the Buffalo will get his chance. If he does return to form, the Rays may have signed one of the best contracts of the offseason.Next post: So, the Braves Traded for Brandon Phillips…
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