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Tampa Bay Rays: Ramos Deal is Official, DFA O’Conner

By Althea Pashman
Sep 23, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (40) reacts after hitting a solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 23, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (40) reacts after hitting a solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the sixth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Tampa Bay Rays have officially inked catcher Wilson Ramos to a two-year, incentive laden contract.

After the two sides agreed to a two-year contract during the Winter Meetings, the Tampa Bay Rays officially announced on Monday that it is a done deal with catcher Wilson Ramos after passing his physical.

The two-year deal is for $12.5 million, with $5.75 million of incentives that could turn the overall deal to over $18 million. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes that Ramos can receive a $2 million dollar raise in his 2018 salary (from $8.5 million to $10.5 million) based on starting 55 games at catcher – however, there is a caveat.  The caveat is Ramos not going back on the disabled list because of his knee.

With no room on the 40-man roster after adding Rule 5 selection Kevin Gadea last Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays have designated minor-league catcher Justin O’Conner for assignment. Selected in the first-round of the 2010 Draft (31st overall), O’Conner was rated as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects by Baseball America, however staying healthy throughout his career has been a problem.

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This past season O’Conner was limited to just 20 minor-league games this past season, due to a back strain that he said happened while driving to spring training. The Rays also revealed that O’Conner had undergone two back surgeries this off-season – one in October the other in November.

Sustaining a season-ending injury the last week of the season, which resulted in tears to his ACL and meniscus, Ramos was headed to a huge payday via free agency. He was a first-time All-Star, batting .307/.354/.496 (148-for-482) with 22 home runs and 80 RBI in 131 games (122 starts).

The result of his injury afforded the Rays the opportunity to sign him and no doubt, it was and is a big gamble, but one that the Rays were willing to take.

"“A healthy Wilson Ramos is one of the best all-around catchers in baseball,” said Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom. “Few players at the position can impact all facets of the game like he can. We’re excited for what Wilson will contribute to both our offense and our pitching staff, and we look forward to getting him back on the field soon.”"

Ramos ranked first among NL catchers in slugging percentage he was tied for first in RBI, was second in batting average, second in home runs to Yasmani Grandal of the Dodgers, and was tied for second in extra-base hits (47). On the defensive side, he threw out 33.3 percent (16-of-48) of attempted base stealers, which ranked him third in the National League. At season’s end, he won his first NL Silver Slugger Award as the top hitting catcher.

Ramos via a conference call said that he was ahead of schedule with his rehab by a month and expects to be ready by May – at least as a DH, before getting behind the plate.

"“It had been something on my mind to try to find an American League club, and that was the opportunity I found with the Rays,” Ramos said through an interpreter. “The pace of my rehab, at the very least, I expect to be available for the team really from the beginning of May.”"

Under most circumstances, following a surgery such as Ramos’ rehab time is usually six-to-eight-months. That would have been a return sometime in late June or July as the Rays had figured.

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Every little bit helps, and if Ramos can come back in May and DH, and give the Rays a boost in the lineup it would be an asset – especially if he can produce like he did in 2016.  The Rays have said that they won’t hold Ramos back if he proves ready for that timetable.

Of all the offensive success that Ramos has had over the years, there has been a downside, which has been injuries.

The knee injury is not his first, as in May 2012, just 25 games into the season, Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee while trying to field a passed ball against the Cincinnati Reds, he was placed on the 60-day DL, missing the remainder of the 2012 season.

In April of 2013, Ramos hurt his hamstring trying to beat out a ground ball and landed on the 15-day DL. A month later, he went back on the DL after aggravating the same hamstring for the season he played in just 78 games.  In the 78 games, hit a what was then a career high 16 homers, with 59 RBI batting .272.

Opening Day 2014 against the Mets, Ramos sustained a broken left hand during some point in the game before being removed in the seventh inning. He would require surgery for a broken hamate bone and would return in May having missed 33 games.

From 2012 through 2014, Ramos managed to play in only 191 games – in his seven years at the major league level, only three years has he played in 113 or more games.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Agreement in Place with Wilson Ramos

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In the meantime, if he can duplicate his past production once he becomes healthy, everybody wins, especially the Rays who may have found their best catcher ever and “lightning in a bottle.”

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