The Angels are among five teams interested in signing free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak on it publicly.
Ramos is a nine-year veteran who was an All-Star for the second time in his career last year, when he batted .306 with 15 home runs, 70 RBI and an .845 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. But injuries limited Ramos to 111 games between stints with the Tampa Bay Rays, who signed him to a two-year, $12.5-million contract in December 2016, and the Philadelphia Phillies, who acquired him at the nonwaiver trade deadline in July.
Of his suitors, the Angels have expressed the most interest in Ramos. But signing the injury-prone 31-year-old could prove tricky. The Angels’ ability to find ways to rest Ramos, who has twice undergone surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, may be compromised by their commitment to using Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani as their designated hitters.
A healthy Ramos, like the one who played in more than 125 games for the Washington Nationals in 2015 and 2016, can provide significant offensive output. The only season in which he appeared in more than 110 games and didn’t produce an OPS above .730 was 2015, when he struck out a career-high 101 times and batted .229.
Even Ramos’ worst season would be an improvement for the Angels, who saw their group of catchers hit 13 points below the league average of .233.
Ramos is also a well-regarded defensive catcher. He’s just not as highly touted as former Angel and current free agent Martin Maldonado, who won the American League Gold Glove at the position in 2017.
Billy Eppler reiterated during baseball’s general manager meetings in Carlsbad on Wednesday that adding a catcher was one of the Angels’ top priorities for the offseason.
“I think we can supplement it and be better there,” he said.
Eppler is also open-minded to staying the course with internal options, neither of which has had time to prove himself at the major league level.
One is Kevan Smith, whom the Angels claimed off waivers from the Chicago White Sox last week and who played in only 52 big league games last season. Since debuting in the major leagues in 2016, Smith has made 497 plate appearances and batted .281 with 23 doubles, seven home runs and 51 RBI.
The other option is Jose Briceno. He is the only other catcher on the Angels’ 40-man roster and will still be a rookie next season after playing in 46 games in 2018. Briceno impressed the Angels with his ability to manage the pitching staff and his athleticism behind the plate.
Briceno threw out eight would-be base stealers and allowed 10 stolen bases in his 302 innings.
“Kevan now adds a competition component for that role,” Eppler said. “If we have to go with Jose, we go with Jose. I’m comfortable with him. … We’ll be opportunistic. If something presents itself, great. It’s not ‘need a catcher at all costs,’ though. But if we can do it, I’ll be open to it.”
Angels encouraged by young pitchers
What the Angels do in the starting pitching market could be tempered by their confidence in prospects Jose Suarez and Griffin Canning.
Both ended the 2018 season in triple-A Salt Lake after being assigned to Class A-Advanced Inland Empire out of spring training.
Canning, the Angels’ second-round pick of the 2017 draft out of UCLA, made 13 starts there and had a 5.49 earned-run average. He struck out 64 batters and issued 22 walks in 59 innings.
Suarez, a left-hander who will turn 21 in January, had a 4.48 ERA in 17 starts. He struck out 73 batters and issued 35 walks in 78 1/3 innings.
Neither player is on the Angels’ 40-man roster.
“You’ll see them at some point next year,” Eppler said. “God willing, you’ll see them.”
Simmons wins another award
For the fifth time in six years, shortstop Andrelton Simmons was named Wednesday as the 2018 Wilson defensive player of the year at his position.
Simmons led American League shortstops with 21 defensive runs saved and tied for the second-most among all major league players. He also had an MLB-best ultimate zone rating of 19.7, according to FanGraphs.