The last few days encapsulated Cesar Ramos‘ major league career quite well. At one point, it looked like he would be making the start for the Rays’ in their spring training opener today. Instead, he will appear in relief. Ramos’ career has consisted of as many climbs and tumbles as anyone the Rays have ever seen. This spring training, though, Ramos faces an ultimatum: make the team, or end up elsewhere for next season.
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Cesar Ramos in the Jason Bartlett trade with the San Diego Padres in December of 2010 and Ramos began 2011 as the Rays’ lefty specialist. It did not go well. Ramos did put up a 3.92 ERA in his 59 appearances and 43.2 innings pitched, but he managed just a 31-25 strikeout to walk ratio. The Rays knew his performance could not last, so they started him at Triple-A in 2012. But when he returned in May, he began to dominate, managing a 1.74 ERA in 20.2 innings pitched before being sent back down. He returned in late July for a spectacular performance, tossing 4 shutout innings allowing no runs on just 2 hits, striking out 6 while walking none. It was so impressive that the Rays decided to send him back to Durham to see if he could be an option as a starting pitcher. Ramos got hit hard in his 7 Triple-A starts, putting up just a 4.84 ERA, so the experiment failed. Ramos’ potential was not quite limitless. However, Rays fans were excited to see what he would do in the Rays bullpen in 2013.
When you look back at Cesar Ramos’ 2013 stats, they really are not so bad. He pitched to a 4.14 ERA, a 7.1 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 48 appearances and 67.1 innings pitched. He had his moments, tossing 3 innings on back-to-back days on June 9th and 10th to save the rest of the Rays’ bullpen and tossing 2.1 perfect innings to earn the win as the Rays beat the Padres on May 11th. But the thing we remember most is Joe Maddon not trusting Ramos at all. Ramos’ average leverage index was just .432, the lowest of any major league pitcher minimum 45 innings pitched. That means that the average pressure he faced was 56.8% below average. Maddon used Ramos in low-leverage situations for 71.1% of his appearances, almost never trusting him in even remotely close games. Ramos did actually earn a save on May 31st–but the Rays ended up winning the game 9-2, so it is not as though Ramos had his back against the wall. Josh Lueke finished the season with much worse numbers than Ramos, but at least at one point he received the opportunity to pitch in higher-pressure situations. Maddon never saw enough from Ramos to give him a chance.
Cesar Ramos is out of options, so if he does not make the Rays’ bullpen out of spring training, he will be designated for assignment. The Rays have passed him by time and again, so it is not crazy to think that they could leave him off the roster. Ramos enters the spring as an incumbent for a spot, but his position is precarious at best and he cannot take anything for granted. Cesar Ramos has to give the Rays a reason to give him another chance. That starts today.