Understanding the Matt Ramsey Trade for IFA Bonus Pool Slots

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When we first heard that the Tampa Bay Rays had traded Double-A reliever Matt Ramsey to the Miami Marlins for three bonus pool slots totaling $1,000,800, we thought we knew what was going on. The Rays had already surpassed the upper limits of their bonus pool by signing the top international free agent prospect according to Baseball America, shortstop Adrian Rondon, plus #27 prospect Jesus Sanchez. By acquiring the additional money (and delaying to make Rondon’s deal official), it seemed like the Rays had a chance to avoid going over their bonus pool by 15% and face less severe penalties for the 2016 signing period because of that. Instead, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports that the Rays will still face the full penalty and simply saved $1 million by executing the whole deal. Would the Rays really trade a potentially valuable relief prospect just to save $1 million?

Ramsey, 24, was the Rays’ 19th round draft pick back in 2011 and worked his way up to Double-A Montgomery for this season. Ramsey had a shiny 1.07 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched, striking out 12.3 batters per 9 innings–but he also walked 6.1 per 9. Ramsey’s fastball usually sits in the 92-94 MPH range, and he pairs it with a curveball that can be devastating at times. However, the lack of premium velocity combined with Ramsey’s control issues is a major obstacle that he will have to overcome. The first big thing to realize is that the Rays almost certainly are not giving up a future closer or anything close by trading Ramsey. The second is how he fits into the system.

The Tampa Bay Rays bullpen is going to receive an overhaul in the coming couple of years. Grant Balfour has been a disappointment since signing, Joel Peralta‘s retirement draws closer and closer, and Juan Carlos Oviedo will almost surely leave as a free agent this offseason. To replace them, however, the Rays have a bevy of options. Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, and Kirby Yates are the young core of the Rays bullpen right now, and there are plenty of pitchers ready to join them. Jeff Beliveau and C.J. Riefenhauser have seen big league time this season and could be a pair of effective lefty middle relievers. Adam Liberatore gives the Rays a third interesting southpaw. Jake Thompson has broken out since moving to the bullpen and could be a late-inning type when it is all said and done. At the end of the day, however, the players to really watch for the Rays’ future relief corps are the Durham starters. The Rays’ rotation might be set for a couple of years with Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore (once he returns). Maybe we will see another trade or two, and there will certainly be injuries, but the Rays are not going to find room for all of Alex Colome, Matt Andriese, Mike Montgomery, Nate Karns, and Enny Romero to start. The Rays will of course make free agent signings, but it is becoming increasing conceivable that the Rays’ 2016 pitching staff could like something like this.

Starting Pitchers: Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Matt Andriese

Bullpen: Jake McGee (Closer), Brad Boxberger, Alex Colome, Nate Karns, Enny Romero, Kirby Yates, Mike Montgomery

Guys like Thompson, Beliveau, and Riefenhauser are interesting, but can they really compare to the electric stuff and greater upside of those Durham starters? The Rays are certainly hoping that at least two or three their Triple-A guys become options as starting pitchers, but with none of them an elite prospect, seeing most of them end up in the bullpen would be unsurprising. With that in mind, the value of a Double-A reliever is much lower for the Rays than for other teams right now. The Rays have too many arms at Triple-A to deal with–what are they supposed to do with a pure reliever still working his way through Double-A, and one with control issues at that?

None of this is meant to be a slight against Matt Ramsey as a pitcher. The right-hander has the ability to crack the Marlins bullpen in a year or two and have a solid major league career. But especially considering he is one more control-plagued season away from his value going down the drain, the Rays decided that trading him for future assets was their best recourse. The Rays traded Ramsey for $1 million, but it is $1 million that they are more than likely going to use to sign additional international free agents. Maybe it says something that the Rays needed to trade someone to find another $1 million, but it also worth emphasizing that $1 million for the Rays is worth more to them than it would be for another team. This Matt Ramsey trade is not the type of deal we are used to seeing, but it is mutually beneficial for everyone involved. The Rays will get to sign a couple of additional talented players, the Marlins will get a relief prospect, and Ramsey gets to go to an organization where he has a better chance of cracking their bullpen in the long-term.

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