As of Monday morning, the Tampa Bay Rays have made the signing of All Star catcher and now former Washington National, Wilson Ramos, official. Ramos, who crushed 22 home runs and drove in 80 runs in 2016 while hitting .307 in 131 games is recovering from an ACL injury he suffered back in September. The now official deal is for two years and $12.5M with incentives that could make the deal worth $18.25M when all is said and done. To make room for Ramos, the Rays designated catcher Justin O’Conner for assignment.
Tampa Bay Times beat writer, Marc Topkin, said on Monday morning, Ramos hopes to be ready to go in early May. When the news first came down during the Winter Meetings last week that he had agreed to a contract with Tampa, the team was saying it would be more mid-season before they’d see their new slugger.
Sure it’s mid-December and we’re still two full months away from pitchers and catchers reporting. But let’s look at what this Rays lineup could look like when Ramos returns:
- 2B Logan Forsythe (2016: 127 G, 20 HR, 52 RBI, .264/.333/.444) – Moving “LoFo” out of the lead off spot would be crazy. He was one of the best in the game in the top spot.
- CF Kevin Kiermaier (2016: 105 G, 12 HR, 37 RBI, 21/24 SB, .331 OBP) – He settled in very nicely to the two-hole and had a pretty solid second half of the season last year. His OBP shot up from .298 in ’15 to .331 in ’16.)
- 3B Evan Longoria (2016: 160 G, 36 HR, 98 RBI, .840 OPS) – Longo had a career season in ’16 at 30 years old in his ninth year. With how the sluggers around him produced – it’s no coincidence. Longo should have another 30-HR year in ’17.
- 1B Brad Miller (2016: 152 G, 30 HR, 81 RBI, .786 OPS) – Let’s hope ’16 wasn’t an anomaly for the newly transitioned first baseman. Can he duplicate his 30 bombs from a year ago? He may not have to but it’d sure be nice.
- DH Corey Dickerson (2016: 148 G, 24 HR, 70 RBI, .761 OPS) – Put together a healthy ’16 campaign and returned to his power production from his time in Colorado. Should see an uptick in that .245 avg in ’17 which will make him that much more dangerous.
- C Wilson Ramos (2016: 131 G, 22 HR, 80 RBI, .307 avg) – Among the MLB leaders in nearly every category a catcher can be in ’16. Will his ACL injury affect him behind and at the plate when he returns? Time will tell. It certainly looks like the Rays have finally got their backstop of the foreseeable future, though.
- RF Steven Souza Jr (2016: 120 G, 17 HR, 49 RBI) – He needs to put together a full season to truly gauge how good he can be. Both years in Tampa were injury-shortened at some point (110 G in ’15, 120 in ’16).
- SS Matt Duffy (2016: 91 G, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 8 SB) – Another guy who needs to rebound from injury in ’17 can be a real asset defensively and at the plate. Hard to strike out, contact hitter with some occasional pop is nice to have at the bottom of a lineup for 140+ games.
- Whoever they put in left field – For my money it’s going to be Nick Franklin Opening Day with a platoon of he and Mikie Mahtook. Franklin broke out in ’16 and Mahtook regressed drastically. Let’s just wait and see with this one.
The Rays could still bring in an every day left fielder before the off-season is wrapped. They could still trade away an arm or two to get said player. However as it stands right now – that’s a pretty good looking lineup from where I’m standing. Seven-eight guys very capable of 15-20 bombs and a few very capable of swiping a good share of bags in 2017. Remember those days, Rays fans? When this team was near the top in stolen bases every year and ran the bases as well as anyone in baseball? I think that will be one of the keys to rebounding from a 68-loss season a year ago and I truly believe they’ve got the players to do it.
Despite crushing the franchise home run record last year – the Rays were still 14th in the AL in runs scored with just 672. Only the A’s were worse. I’m sure most fans would take fewer home runs out of any one of their sluggers if it meant better situational hitting and higher on-base percentages. Take more walks. Only three teams in the AL walked fewer than the Rays last season yet no team in the AL struck out more. That’s a lop-sided stat that must level off in 2017 for them to take any strides upward at the plate and on the scoreboard.
Bringing in a veteran like Ramos who has hit double-digit home runs five of the last six seasons and is coming off an All Star and Silver Slugger season (both firsts) will help in every way. Only once in his seven years in MLB has he struck out 100 times (2015). His .354 on-base percentage last season matched a career-high. His .333 avg with RISP is also a desperate need for the Rays who only had Longoria hit over .300 in that situation.
It’s been years since Tampa Bay has had a legitimate, every day catcher behind the plate who was as well-rounded as Ramos. In fact, they maybe have never had one with the raw ability he has. Dioner Navarro was the last All Star backstop to go to the Midsummer Classic wearing a Rays jersey way back in 2008. Finally, in 2017, they have their guy. He’s 29 years old and coming into his peak years. To say this team stole him off the market is putting it pretty accurately. Had he not been injured he just might one of the highest-paid catchers in baseball right now.
Kudos to the new president of baseball operations, Chaim Bloom, for making a splash in his first off-season in the new position.
There’s still plenty of off-season to go.