On Saturday, nearly halfway through the season, the Tampa Bay Rays finally got to see their big free-agent signing. Catcher Wilson Ramos was activated from the 60-day disabled list to start against the Baltimore Orioles. It didn’t end up being a particularly exciting debut. Ramos went 1-for-4 with a single and a strikeout, and the Rays lost 8-3. Ramos, though, could end up being a huge boost for a team stuck in a very tight race in the American League.
Wilson Ramos Could Have An Enormous Impact For The Tampa Bay Rays
This past off-season, the Rays signed Ramos to a two-year, $12.5 million contract on December 12. That would seem like quite the bargain for a 29-year-old catcher coming off the season Ramos had. In 135 games for the Washington Nationals in 2016, Ramos hit .307/.354/.496 with 22 home runs and 80 RBI for a 124 WRC+. Ramos was named to the National League All-Star team. He received the Silver Slugger for NL catchers. He was a pending free agent and in line for a huge contract. The Nats were on their way to an NL East title. Everything was great for Ramos, until it wasn’t.
It was September 26, 2016, a rainy night where the Nationals were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ramos came down awkwardly after leaping for a high throw home, and suffered a torn ACL. Suddenly, Ramos’s tremendous 2016 season was over, much of his 2017 was already gone as well, and his future was in doubt. After the injury, Ramos said himself that a move to the American League might be best for him so he could DH if need be. His free-agent value cratered, but while it was a horrible break for Ramos, it may have been an incredible one for the Rays. The small-market team never would’ve been able to afford Ramos if not for the injury. Now, Ramos is back, and represents a potential enormous upgrade for Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay’s Catchers
The idea of having a Silver Slugger winning catcher is a completely foreign concept to the Rays. In 198 plate appearances this season, Derek Norris, who was designated for assignment to make room for Ramos, hit .201/.258/.380 with nine home runs and 24 RBI. In 101 plate appearances, Jesus Sucre has hit .245/.270/.372 with three homers and 19 RBI. Norris and Sucre have posted a WRC+ of 68 and 69, respectively. That kind of anemic offensive production from their catchers is nothing new to the Rays. Let’s go back and look and look at recent years.
Curt Casali: 256 PA, .186/.273/.336, eight home runs, 25 RBI, 67 WRC+
Hank Conger: 137 PA, .194/.265/.306, three home runs, 10 RBI, 57 WRC+
Luke Maile: 126 PA, .227/.252/.361, three home runs, 15 RBI, 61 WRC+
Bobby Wilson: 95 PA, .230/.272/.391, four home runs, nine RBI, 79 WRC+
Rene Rivera: 319 PA, .178/.213/.275, five home runs, 26 RBI, 32 WRC+
Curt Casali: 113 PA, .238/.304/.594, 10 home runs, 18 RBI, 144 WRC+
J.P. Arencibia: 73 PA, .310/.315/.606, six home runs, 17 RBI, 151 WRC+
Bobby Wilson: 59 PA, .145/.203/.145, zero home runs, four RBI, -2 WRC+
Luke Maile: 35 PA, .171/.171/.257, zero home runs, two RBI, 10 WRC+
Ryan Hanigan: 263 PA, .218/.318/.324, five home runs, 34 RBI, 90 WRC+
Jose Molina: 247 PA, .178/.230/.187, zero home runs, 10 RBI, 21 WRC+
Curt Casali: 84 PA, .167/.286/.208, zero home runs, three RBI, 45 WRC+
We could go on, but there’s just a whole lot of Molina and it gets kind of depressing. You get the point by now. There was a strange time in 2015 when Casali and Arencibia couldn’t stop hitting dingers, but aside from that, Rays catchers have been completely abominable offensively for years now. What the Rays got from Norris and Sucre this year was actually a bit better than their usual standards, but still far from good. Ramos is not just a good hitter by Rays catcher standards. He’s not just a good hitter by catcher standards. He’s just a good hitter. If he can return to something close to his 2016 form, the Rays will have added a true middle-of-the-order bat in Ramos, and he’ll be their catcher. What a concept.
Ramos has recovered now, ready to help the Rays in their 2017 playoff chase, and they’ll have him all next year as well. The Rays took a chance on a catcher coming off a serious injury. Now they’ll get to see if their gamble pays off. If it does, it might take some time for Rays fans to get used to their catcher producing offensively.