Back in 2016, life was looking good for Wilson Ramos. He was heading to the postseason with the Washington Nationals, and then he was heading to free agency as the top catcher on the market coming off an All-Star season.
In a cruel twist, though, Ramos suffered a torn ACL in the final week of the regular season. His 2016 season was over, and a big chunk of his 2017 was already over. Meanwhile, his value in free agency plummeted. He ended up settling for a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays worth just $12.5 million in guaranteed money.
Nearly two years later, Ramos has suffered another poorly-timed injury. The hamstring injury he’s dealing with right now may not be nearly as serious as a torn ACL. However, the timing couldn’t be much worse for both Ramos and the Rays.
What Wilson Ramos’ Injury Means for the Tampa Bay Rays
Ramos suffered the injury running out a ground ball in the sixth inning of the Rays’ 19-6 win over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Saturday, voted in by the fans as the starting catcher for the American League and was excited to return to his old home field in Washington and play in an All-Star Game there.
The team has yet to announce a timetable for Ramos’ return. In fact, they’ve yet to even officially place him on the disabled list. However, Rays manager Kevin Cash didn’t seem optimistic that he’ll be back anytime soon when he said they got “not the best” news about the injury, and that “he’s going to miss some time.”
Why Ramos was likely going to be traded
Ramos is going to be a free agent after the season, and it seems unlikely that the Rays, who always have one of MLB’s smallest payrolls, will be able to re-sign a player of his caliber. Combine that with the fact that the Rays are going into the All-Star break 8.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners for the AL’s second Wild Card, and would also have to pass the Oakland Athletics, and it seemed like Ramos was probably going to be traded by the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Teams such as the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros had shown interest in him. However, it now seems safe to assume Ramos will still be on the disabled list when the deadline arrives.
There’s no doubt that the Rays, if they do still trade Ramos, will now not be able to get as good of a return. Depending on just how long he’s expected to be out for, it’s possible there just won’t be any worthwhile offers for him and he won’t get traded at all. This is an unfortunate break for the Rays, but as well as for Ramos, who now may not get to join a contender. Furthermore, a trade would make Ramos ineligible to receive a qualifying offer. If he’s not traded, the Rays could make Ramos a qualifying offer after the season. This would hurt his free agent value if he declines it, as any team that signs him would have to give the Rays draft pick compensation.
Who replaces Ramos?
If there’s any silver lining to the timing of the injury, it’s that the Rays now have a few days over the break to figure out how they’re going to replace Ramos. If they were planning on trading him, this was probably something they’d already been thinking about anyway.
Jesus Sucre has served as Tampa Bay’s backup catcher for the last two seasons. He will likely see the bulk of the work behind the plate in Ramos’ absence. That will be a significant downgrade offensively. Sucre is slashing just .229/.276/.260 in 37 games this season. He has just three extra base hits — all doubles — and 12 RBI in 107 plate appearances.
The big question now is who else will see time behind the plate while Ramos is on the DL. For a team that was supposedly going to trade its All-Star catcher soon, the Rays are lacking in catching depth. Ramos and Sucre are the only catchers on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster. They might regret a May 31st trade that sent Curt Casali to the Cincinnati Reds for cash considerations. Casali was playing pretty well in Triple-A, slashing .274/.327/.453 with four homers and 20 RBI in 28 games. He’s played really well since joining the Reds, slashing .310/.383/.452 in 17 games.
The only other catcher in the organization with MLB experience is Adam Moore. The 34-year-old has played in 96 MLB games. He’s spent time with the Mariners, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, and most recently the Cleveland Indians in 2016. He’s slashed just .197/.237/.303 over 292 MLB plate appearances. This year, he’s hit just .221/.266/.317 with two homers and 22 RBI in 43 games at Triple-A.
Another option could be 2013 first-round pick Nick Ciuffo. The 23-year-old is hitting just .255/.291/.355 with two home runs and 14 RBI in 29 Triple-A games. Since neither is faring all that well in Triple-A, and since both would have to be added to the 40-man roster anyway, it won’t be surprising if the Rays go outside of the organization to add a catcher who can share playing time with Sucre for the time being.
Will Ramos still be traded?
Ramos is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. In 78 games this year, he’s slashing .297/.346/.488 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI. His 131 wRC+ ranks second among qualified catchers behind only J.T. Realmuto‘s 145. Even if he’s just a rental, the Rays were still expecting to get a nice return for him. If he returns sometime in August, it’s possible he could still get traded prior to the August 31st deadline for postseason eligibility. However, a trade in August would have to be done through waivers, which is much more difficult.
The good news for Ramos is, unlike his torn ACL in 2016, this injury probably won’t significantly impact his value in free agency. The two-time All-Star should still be in line for a big contract. The biggest impact this injury will have on Ramos is that he now may not get traded, and because of that he may head into free agency with draft pick compensation attached to him. Now the Rays will have to weigh whether any offers they still get for an injured Ramos are better than the draft pick compensation they’d receive if he leaves as a free agent.
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