The countdown has begun, kids. Opening Night (well, American Opening Night) is fast approaching as the Dodgers take on the Padres down in San Diego on March 30th. Leading up until then, MAMBINO will tackle 20 of the most important–and some not so important–questions that will get you set up for a season of almost unparalleled expectations. Let’s get it going:
If you could sign Hanley Ramirez to what would be an open mark contract right now (say, 5 years, $90 million), would you do it?
Money-wise, there weren’t very many prevailing questions of the offseason that the Dodgers didn’t answer. They signed Clayton Kershaw to a 7-year, $215 million dollar extension. They paid up to keep their bullpen intact, to the tune of nearly $20 million guaranteed to both Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell. They took a look at free agency and the trade market and decided that 2 years and $14 million was a fine price for a just fine Juan Uribe at the hot corner. But oddly enough, one of their most important financial question marks wasn’t answered anytime from November to March: whether or not the Dodgers would sign their most valuable offensive player in Hanley Ramirez to a contract extension.
The Domincan shortstop came to the Dodgers midway through the 2012 season and has been every part the MVP candidate he was in Miami… yet, still far from a lock to receive a long-term deal from LA. His numbers in his 64 game after the August trade were rather pedestrian by his standards: .271/.324/.450 with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. Nothing fancy, but certainly far exceeding the sub-replacement production the team was getting from Jerry Hairston, Jr., Juan Uribe and Dee Gordon. However, in 2013, he exploded: in 86 games he hit for a 1.040 OPS and 20 homers. He was in the most sophisticated sense, absolutely shithouse bonkers. The only problem? He sat out for half the season with hamstring and thumb problems. It was his second season in the last three in which he failed to play in 100 games, an alarming sign from a shortstop crossing the age of 30. These troubles were only exacerbated by the fact that he was forced out of the postseason with cracked ribs resulting from an errant Joe Kelly fastball.
And thus the question: should a player with this type of injury history be given a multi-year deal orbiting around nine figures?
The evidence against is damning. Ramirez has never been a great defensive shortstop, though many times the issue has been a question of effort rather than ability. However, he’s a 6’2″, 225 lbs mammoth of a man rounding the age of 31 whose days of elite athleticism are probably behind him. He certainly won’t be getting better defensively, nor have we seen any signs that it’s really important to him. The nature of his injuries aren’t that worrisome to me for the most part–he ruptured a ligament in his thumb last season because of a head-first slide and the cracked ribs were from a 94 MPH fastball. However, after a while, those injuries take their mileage out of the human body. How many times can a man get banged up before the aggregate effects finally slow him down?
Like any long-term deal, it’s not that Hanley isn’t worth nearly $20 million per year based on his performance right now. He’s the type of player that can win a playoff series on his own even if he’s played just 20 regular season games. What I’m worried about is that this contract will look very ugly at age 35.
Despite all of these very obvious facts, I would no doubt sign Ramirez to this deal.
This is in part because of his tremendous skill and game-changing presence if available for the postseason. It’s also in part because the Dodgers don’t have much coming up in way of shortstop prospects. Corey Seager looks like he’ll land up being the team’s third baseman as early as next season, while Jesmuel Valentin hasn’t impressed much with the bat. The Dodgers invested in Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena over the winter, who’s best comparison is defensive whiz (but light sticked) Jose Iglesias. Looking at the 2015 free agent market, the best SS out there are J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie and Yunel Escobar–the two former players are just an injury-prone as Hanley and all three at their very bests throw up “average Hanley numbers”. Essentially, if the Dodgers don’t sign Ramirez long-term, they’ll have to pay for above average production elsewhere with three year deals with average annual value of around $13 million (if we’re using 2014 free agent Jhonny Peralta’s contract as the precedent).
If the negotiating window is still there for the Dodgers, I would get after it with Ramirez, if for no other reason that I don’t see many suitable replacements. Arruebarruena may be his eventual successor, but there’s really no telling how Cuban players will develop here in America. Five years and $90 million sounds about what Ramirez’s market value would be, though I’d go all the way up to the low nine figures for such a game changing talent.
On the other hand, there’s no price that LA won’t match if he were to hit the open market… if Hanley emerges from this contract year relatively unscathed. In that sense, the Dodgers can afford to wait, which I suspect they will.