Why Rays think dropping Harold Ramirez to add Taylor Walls was right move

ST. PETERSBURG — There were a number of reasons why the Rays made the decision Friday to drop Harold Ramirez in creating space for Taylor Walls on the roster.

Most important was to improve their defense/run prevention, which manager Kevin Cash repeatedly has identified as his team’s biggest flaw, more so than impotent offense or inconsistent pitching.

Ranking 26th among 30 teams in defensive runs saved (minus-20), 25th in run differential (minus-50) and 18th in defensive efficiency (.697) through Friday show why.

Friday’s moves should help in a number of ways, enabling the Rays — who face a battle to make a sixth straight postseason appearance — to return to a more familiar and previously successful style of play.

“More athletic, more of the defensive identity that we’ve tended to have over the years,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said.

To get there, Neander said, the team went through all roster configurations, “isolating our players individually” and deciding “which players we think help us score the most runs and prevent the fewest runs.”

• Sticking Walls at shortstop will provide an anchor on the left side of the infield with more range, consistency and experience than Jose Caballero, who filled in admirably. The Rays feel the difference will be enough to offset the dropoff in offense (Walls has a .191 career average).

“Defensively, (Walls is) a game-changer,” Cash said. “He’s going to make everybody around him better, just the amount of ground that he covers.”

• The Rays can now use Caballero, a right-handed hitter and the American League leader in stolen bases, in more of a utility infielder role like he had last year in Seattle.

Caballero will get time at second base (along with lefty-swinging Brandon Lowe), third (with Isaac Paredes getting time at DH and first base so Yandy Diaz also can get off his feet), and shortstop (as Walls, who had a lengthy recovery from right hip surgery, won’t play every day). Caballero also will be used situationally off the bench.

• They’ve removed their most defensively limited and roster-clogging player, Ramirez, from the mix and should have much less need on the field for Amed Rosario. Rosario has played four positions (including shortstop), though none particularly well, but has contributed much with his bat and will help more in a DH/pinch-hitting role.

• By not sending down outfielder Jonny DeLuca (the likely other option to make room for Walls), the Rays have more depth and options for late-game moves, including for defense.

• They have more flexibility overall to set their defensive lineups situationally based on the style of their starter (fly-ball or ground-ball pitcher) and, if/when they add a lefty, the handedness.

There are a couple of other points raised by designating Ramirez, 29, for assignment, with seven days for resolution.

One is that he was a good influence in the clubhouse, typically upbeat, bilingual and level-headed. For the past two seasons he was a solid contributor, hitting .306 with a .780 OPS. This year, however, he hit .268/.589, with 40 of his 44 hits singles, including 12 infield singles.

“It sucks that it happens that suddenly,” Lowe said. “It’s terrible to see a guy like that go, especially when he’s done so well for us since he’s been here.

“But the way he carried himself on and off the field and the way he’s played the past couple of years, you hope other teams have seen that and another team picks him up and lets him continue to play.”

The other point is that the decision wasn’t about saving money.

Assuming, quite safely, Ramirez won’t be claimed off waivers, the Rays will end up eating most of the remaining $2.35 million on his $3.8 million contract, either by paying the bulk of it in a trade to get something back or by releasing him. If he signs elsewhere, his new team is only responsible for a prorated share of the $740,000 (roughly $457,000).

Rays rumblings

Remember when closer Pete Fairbanks missed a May game after cutting his finger on an aluminum container of The Mountain Valley Spring water, then touted the benefits of the green glass bottles? Last week the company, with a nudge from agent Aaron Elking, made good, shipping six cases of glass-bottled water to Fairbanks’ home. “I have excellent representation,” he said. … How did Lowe find out he would make a rare start against a lefty Tuesday in the Marlins’ Jesus Luzardo (and go on to have a big game)? Via text message during Monday’s off day while chasing 16-month-old son Emmett around the pool at their Miami hotel. “I kind of looked at it, like, ‘OK, playing,’ then you look down and the kid’s running away, (so it’s) ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to go over here,’” Lowe said. “So, not a whole lot of thought into, ‘Oh my God, I’m starting,’ or anything like that.” … In a meeting Wednesday with Miami-based players association official Javier Vazquez, Rays players voted to formalize that Fairbanks will be their union rep, with Lowe and Richie Palacios as assistants. … After seeing stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence on the field before Wednesday’s game in Miami touting their new “Bad Boys” movie, Palacios posted an invite on X to “any celebrities” who want to “pull up” to a Rays game to let him know. … In trading outfielder Ruben Cardenas to the Phillies so he would have a greater opportunity to play at Triple A, the Rays received $1, which is the standard return for courtesy-type deals. … In Bleacher Report’s “definitive” ranking of City Connect uniforms, the Rays’ much-praised threads were 11th, with writer Tim Kelly noting the merchandise and SkyRay hat were good, but the uniforms not so much: “Are we going to pretend that the ‘Tampa Bay’ logo in flames doesn’t look like a cheap shirt that a 10-year-old would buy at Kmart in 2005?’” … The visiting clubhouse crew in Miami had a tough time with a few Rays names, posting locker placards for “Zach Little” (Zack Littell), “Ryan Pepilot” (Pepiot) and “Johnny DeLuca” (Jonny). Most were fixed the second day. … Keith Law’s updated top 50 prospect rankings for The Athletic have Junior Caminero third, Carson Williams 20th and Brayden Taylor 35th. … Ex-Rays Quinton McCracken and Ryan Hanigan are managing teams in the six-team MLB Draft League, a showcase for draft-eligible players. … Littell on what he hates as much as walks: Three-putts and traffic. … Greg Jones, the Rays’ 2019 first-round pick, got called up by the Rockies (who got him in a spring trade for minor-league lefty Joe Rock) and debuted Thursday as a defensive replacement in rightfield.… The site now has a collection of Strength in Struggle merchandise, tied to Brandon and Madison Lowe’s efforts to raise awareness and funds for BabyQuest Foundation and infertility issues. ... The definitely less-athletic Fairbanks, noting a recent article on how good friend and ex-Rays pitcher Josh Fleming may be “a lost Gold Glover,” said, “Well, that may be the case. Maybe I can be the second one.”

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