The Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract with free agent catcher Wilson Ramos. He has a chance to earn an additional $5.75 million in incentives. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated catcher Justin O'Conner for assignment.
Ramos suffered a torn ACL in his right knee near the end of the 2016 season. He is expected to return to the majors at some point during the 2017 season, likely in July. Ramos was the top free-agent catcher available on the free agent market this winter.
Catching prospect Justin O'Conner was removed from the 40-man roster as the corresponding move. He suffered a back strain prior to spring training last season and appeared in only 20 games, requiring two back surgeries during the season.
O'Conner was the 31st overall selection in the 2010 June Draft and may still project as a power hitting back up catcher if his injury struggles are put to rest. Baseball America assigned an 80-grade to his throwing arm last off-season. He will likely return to the Double-A level in his age-25 season.
More notes on Wilson Ramos via team press release:
"A healthy Wilson Ramos is one of the best all-around catchers in baseball," said Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom. "Few players at the position can impact all facets of the game like he can. We're excited for what Wilson will contribute to both our offense and our pitching staff, and we look forward to getting him back on the field soon."
Ramos, 29, made the National League All-Star Team in 2016, batting .307/.354/.496 (148-for-482) with 22 home runs and 80 RBI in 131 games (122 starts) with the Washington Nationals. Among NL catchers, he ranked first in slugging pct., tied for first in RBI, second in batting avg., second in home runs to Yasmani Grandal (Dodgers) and tied for second in extra-base hits (47). His .307 avg. ranked ninth among all NL qualifiers. He also led the majors with a 3.45 catcher's ERA and threw out 33.3 pct. (16-of-48) of attempted base stealers, third in the NL. Following the season, he won the NL's Silver Slugger Award among catchers and received two eighth-place votes for NL Most Valuable Player, tying for 17th in the overall balloting.
Ramos was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins as an amateur free agent in 2004. He made his major league debut with the Twins in 2010 but was traded to the Nationals at the trade deadline that season. Over parts of seven major league seasons, he has hit .269/.313/.430 (574-for-2,136) with 83 home runs and 321 RBI.