Another bullpen option hit the free agent market last night as the Angels non-tendered left-handed reliever Cesar Ramos.
Ramos, 31, had an excellent season with Los Angeles this past year, posting a 2.75 ERA in 52.1 innings spread over 65 appearances. He struck out 43 batters (7.4 K/9) and walked 15 (2.6 BB/9). His 3.02 FIP and 3.79 xFIP weren’t as strong, but neither have ever been particularly bullish on him.
Ramos was set to earn about $1.75 million this winter in arbitration before the Angels released him, and he should cost about the same on the open market. He presents a cheaper alternative to Tony Sipp and Antonio Bastardo, each of whom will likely receive multi-year deals worth between $10 and $15 million.
As someone whose two multi-year bullpen signings have been D.J. Carrasco and Frank Francisco, perhaps Sandy Alderson doesn’t want to invest so much in free agent relievers, especially when payroll is presumably tight.
There are some caveats to Ramos that should be considered. As MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez wrote recently, Ramos was mostly on mop-up duty for the Angels this year, routinely serving as one of the last options for Mike Scioscia. The numbers really back this up. Ramos faced a total of 40 batters in medium or high-leverage situations while he faced 178 in low leverage spots. In his career, batters have a .752 OPS in high-leverage spots, .749 in medium leverage, and .659 in low-leverage situations. Those sample sizes are all pretty small though, so things could change.
He also may have gotten lucky on some fly balls this year. Just 4.4% of the fly balls Ramos allowed in 2015 left the park, which is less than both his career ratio (7.6%) and the league ratio (11.4%). Odds point to that regressing and Ramos giving up more home runs in the future.
That being said, Ramos could serve as somewhat of a lefty specialist alongside Sean Gilmartin. In his career, lefties are hitting just .247/.310/.323 against Ramos, compared to .254/.336/.378 for righties.
If he can prove he can pitch in tight situations, Ramos could be one of the best bang-for-buck buys on the relief pitching market this winter.