In a surprising move that resulted from a rather unsurprising one, the Twins jumped on the chance to add former Rays slugger CJ Cron to its roster. The Rays have made known their wanting to upgrade at the DH position, preferably with someone who could either provide a little more defensive flexibility or bring a more ‘feared’ bat. Or, both.
As another result, Rays have been linked to brand named free agents like Josh Donaldson, (who’s recently agreed to terms with Atlanta) Andrew McCutchen, and Nelson Cruz—any of which would easily become the team’s highest payed player if signed—but I think it’s a familiar face who might be the best fit.
That familiar face belongs to Wilson Ramos.
You might say that the Rays already have their starting catcher in Mike Zunino, and that’s true. I would say that’s all the more reason to bring in the Buffalo as the secondary backstop.
- His market could soften - Many of the teams who are looking to contend in ‘19 and are also looking for catching help are in the National League. Given his injury history (he’s never played more than 131 games in a major league season) and the NL’s lack of a DH pillow, it would be hard to see one of those teams go after Ramos over any one of the many more durable backstops out there. His other former team, the Nationals, already passed up his services for 35-year-old Kurt Suzuki as well as the Braves for 34-year-old Brian McCann. And someone is going to land JT Realmuto. There could be no road to him having primary catching duties, but a step back to second fiddle may be the next phase of Ramos’s career.
- He could rebrand himself - Even though Ramos brings some, albeit around league average, defensive value, his differentiator is obviously his offensive production. This presents a bit of a catch-22, as the catching position was one with very little offense in ‘18. And as we saw with the Rangers’ signing of Jeff Mathis, the owner of a career 52 OPS+, to a two year contract, teams are willing to sacrifice offense for a premium defender. Does this mean Ramos stops catching altogether? Maybe not. But again, it’s possible that teams may hesitate to rely on him to catch 120 games—especially going into his age 31 season, on top of his injury history. If Ramos is willing to play the bulk of his games as a DH, he could play in more games, and become an even better offensive producer, thus re-establishing himself in the open market. He could become Nelson Cruz.
- He could fit the Rays need for a variable, right-handed impact bat - We know that Ramos can mash. His .306/.358/.483 slash netted him a career best 130 OPS+. That’s not far south of Cruz’s 135 OPS+ and a bit better than Donaldson’s 119 number (which is impacted by injury). Granted, all three battled injuries in ‘18. Ramos’s splits put him pretty even against righties and lefties (95 and 115 tOPS+, respectively), meaning he wouldn’t need a platoon partner and would provide some thump in the lineup every single day, but if he is a part time catcher and part time DH, there’s a bit more value to go around.
- He wouldn’t preclude the Rays from another move- The first time the Rays signed Ramos, it was a bargain at 2 years and just $12.5MM. He was coming off his first big year, but it was cut short when he tore his ACL. Even though his injuries this year were far less severe, he still missed time, and was traded while on the disabled list. If his market does indeed soften, he can be had cheaply had, while still leaving room for a bigger acquisition.
Wilson Ramos was a huge contributor for the Rays in 2018, and even expressed interest in coming back last June, saying, “If I stay here, I’ll be happy.”
He’s a right handed impact bat who can fill Cron’s void in the lineup as well as offer defensive flexibility to the roster, and even though the Rays already have their starting catcher, it could still look at Ramos as an offensive upgrade at the DH position and back up catcher overall. It would’ve been risky to sign him to catch every day, but now, he doesn’t have to.
With his bat and versatility also comes experience—with the team, with the pitchers, with the clubhouse. Michael Perez is slated for backup innings behind Zunino, so it could be a superfluous move. But if both the Rays and Ramos can agree on the trajectory of his career as well as his new role, it could be a win for both parties, especially if he finds himself still out of work come January.