Healthy, Wilson Ramos could be a star and a leader for Rays

Washington Nationals' Wilson Ramos at bat during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Nationals won 4-0. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Washington Nationals' Wilson Ramos at bat during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Nationals won 4-0. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Published Dec. 8, 2016

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — In agreeing to a two-year contract with impressive though injured Wilson Ramos, the Rays made a somewhat surprising, definitely risky and potentially rewarding move.

With his surgically repaired right knee checking out fine, Ramos should be officially added to the roster in the hours, or days, after this morning's Rule 5 draft, freeing the Rays to rave openly about filling one of their black hole weaknesses with an elite player.

Speaking with some hypothetical provisos Wednesday, Rays manager Kevin Cash still managed to say enough to get a sense of what Ramos, 29, can bring.

Cash called him "an exciting player," said they "like a lot of things that he's capable of doing" and value "the offensive profile." He noted that catching 100-plus games in back-to-back years puts him "in a special category" and that his experience and success catching Washington's high-end starters makes the Rays "confident that would be a real positive balance for our club."

Assuming Ramos, 29, returns to form when he returns around the All-Star break, the Rays will have 1½ seasons of the best available catcher, and at a bargain price, $18.25 million if he maxes out all incentives in a deal that came together quickly Tuesday night.

Obviously the danger is that Ramos doesn't recover well enough from the ACL and meniscus repairs to be the impact player — dominant hitter and good-enough defender — that allowed him to be a key part, and personality, on some good Nationals teams and ends up a sign of false hope and wasted money.

The upside is that, under Ron Porterfield's crack training staff, Ramos does. That would allow the Rays to benefit from his advanced play in 2017 and '18, when they say they plan to contend, knowing Ramos — who liked the comfort of a two-year deal, the benefit of potential DH at-bats and the assurance of playing time — will be motivated. And, in what truly sounds more like Plan B, they also could come out ahead based on the value of his contributions, and contract, in a trade.

Talking to Nationals staff, it sounds like the Rays are getting much more than just a quality player but a quality guy.

"A heck of a guy," manager Dusty Baker said. "I hated to lose him, but business is business. … You're going to love him."

There seem to be several reasons …

Rather than sulk and bemoan the $50 million-plus his late September knee injury cost him, Ramos has been upbeat, posting videos of his rehab workouts on Twitter. Wednesday he shared initial thoughts on the trade on his @WRamosC3 account: "Working hard to come back strong and contribute to the @RaysBaseball team. Thank you to all the @Nationals fans for your love and support!"

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This is a guy who has already dealt with much worse than knee surgery. He survived a 2011 kidnapping at gunpoint from the driveway of his family's home in his native Venezuela then, after 51 hours in captivity, a daring rescue by commandos, who exchanged gunfire with his captors. "I didn't know," he said then, "if I was going to get out of it alive."

He has the nickname "The Buffalo" because of his size — listed at 6-foot-1, 257 pounds — and strength, with D.C. fans even wearing headgear in his honor.

That moniker may come with some karma, too, as Ramos was taken in by the Cheyenne Indians Baker spends time with in Montana. "The buffalo is one of their sacred spirits," Baker said. "And they adopted Big Ramos and they brought him some artifacts and different things when we went to Colorado. That meant a lot."

Also, there is this.

"When healthy, he's as good as anybody," Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And as good a person as I've ever been around."

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.