PHILADELPHIA >> Wilson Ramos promises to bring more than what he was brought here to do, essentially be a September power jolt in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup.
A two-time All-Star catcher, including this summer with the Tampa Bay Rays, Ramos was acquired for what currently amounts to nothing (cash or player to be named), the asking price in part corresponding to what happens with Ramos going forward.
Perhaps a baseball optimist by nature, he predicts only good things on that count, despite the left hamstring strain that has him on the disabled list.
“I’m 100 percent sure I can help this team win a lot of games,” Ramos, 30, said Thursday in the Phillies clubhouse prior to their game against the Marlins. “I’m very happy for that. I’m a little bit sad at the moment because, you know, I’ve got good memories of the Tamp Bay Rays team. I’m thankful to them because they gave me a great opportunity when I was coming back from knee surgery. But right now, I’m happy to be here.”
He was happy to be with the Rays after a devastating ACL and meniscus tear two years ago which derailed what had been an increasingly productive career with the Washington Nationals. Ramos was having his best season with them in 2016, making the NL All-Star squad, hitting .307 with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs and looking ahead to the playoffs when on Sept. 26, he went up for a throw from Ryan Zimmerman and came down with a shredded knee.
Surgery and a long rehab followed, but Ramos rebuilt after signing with Tampa, playing just 64 games for the Rays last year. The recovery looked complete this season, as he was hitting .297 with 14 home runs, a team-leading 53 RBIs and a .834 OPS when the trade with the Phillies went down.
The dogged recovery reveals the character of what the Phillies have in this supposed rental catcher who is said to be determined to hit the free agency market after the season in search of a payday well north of $10 million per season. Certainly too rich for the prospect-stuffed Phillies, no?
They already had two locked and loaded young catchers in place in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but still felt the need to go get another for an old-fashioned pennant drive stretch. And considering the way those young catchers ... catch ... why not wonder if, health-willing, Ramos might qualify as something more than a rental player?
What if September turns into the start of something sweet for Ramos and the Phillies? It might even start a little sooner.
“I don’t know exactly the day (he can be activated), but it’s not going to take too long,” Ramos said. “I feel a lot better right now and I’m going to do my best to come back soon and strong. ... I’m 100 percent sure that I will be back this month. Probably in the middle of this month, not more than that. I think two weeks, probably will be fine. I’m not a fast runner so I’m not running too fast (either way).
“I’m very excited to come to this team. You have really young talent here and they are in first place so I’m really happy for me and happy for this team because I know I can help them.”
Optimism indeed. At least initially.
Job No. 1 for Ramos is to get healthy. He would subsequently admit his projection of a mid-August return might be a little too optimistic. When told GM Matt Klentak had said it could even be Sept. 1 before he was healthy enough to play, Ramos said, “I’m 100 percent sure it’s not going to be Sept. 1 ... it’ll be earlier than that.” How much earlier? “Probably a couple of days before,” he deadpanned.
The First of September is Roster Expansion Day in the major leagues, of course, hence a convenient time for Ramos to be activated. In reality, however, the Phillies don’t hit well enough to wait that long.
Alfaro, 25, has shown occasional power (.255, seven homers, 24 RBIs) and a powerful throwing arm. But he has to hit more consistently and he has miles to go defensively. Having an experienced All-Star with a lot left to give around now will only help Alfaro.
Knapp, for all his leadership qualities (which is why Gabe Kapler loves him), is only 26 but still emits minor league vibes. Despite getting hot at the plate in June and early July, Knapp came into this Thursday game hitting .223 with one hit in his last 10 games. And defensively, he might make more mistakes than Alfaro.
With the number of young pitchers they have, the Phillies need an experienced signal caller behind the plate, and if he can return healthy, Ramos can bring that and more — the bonus of power to the middle of the lineup.
Bringing him here was a move worth making. And if it goes well, Klentak would be making a better move by extending a two-year contract extension offer viable enough to at least move Ramos to ponder it.
Ah, but it’s a little early for such talk. There’s a rental contract to fulfill first.
“Over there (with Tampa Bay), every time I was trying to do my best,” Ramos said. “Now here there’s an opportunity to play in the playoffs and to win a World Series. So it’s very different here than it was over there. I was very happy over there with the opportunity that team give to me. I’m thankful to them. But now we have to turn the page. This is business. I’m here now.”
Contact Rob Parent at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ReluctantSE