2012 in brief: Surprising trade from Miami kicked off the midseason roster reconstruction and provided an immediate power boost, though not without a severe September slump.
2013 status: Will make $15.5m, but will he play shortstop or third base?
I think that for most of the trades that came down this season, we had something of an idea about them. Sure, no one predicted the exact circumstances of the Boston trade, but we’d heard rumors about Adrian Gonzalez before August. When Brandon League & Shane Victorino arrived on deadline day, well, everyone knew the Dodgers were after help in the bullpen & the outfield. It’s not even limited to trades that actually happened, because how much time did we spend talking about Ryan Dempster & Chase Headley this summer?
But when when I woke up on the morning of July 25th to see that Hanley Ramirez (and Randy Choate) were suddenly Dodgers, it was shocking. In retrospect, I suppose it shouldn’t have been, because the Dodgers had been trying to get by with Luis Cruz & Jerry Hairston on the left side of the infield, but still: we’d heard almost nothing about Ramirez to that point. At the time, I was pretty thrilled:
This is in no way a trade without a substantial amount of risk, which we’ll get to in a second, but my first impression is that I really, really like taking the chance here. We’ve been over so many times how impossible it was going to be to find a bat in this market, particularly one who can play third base and isn’t able to walk at the end of the season, and to be able to do that and get a decent lefty bullpen arm without having to give up your top prospects is just phenomenal.
(snip) I think that’s why I like this deal, really. I joked yesterday that I couldn’t wait until Juan Uribe was gone so that we could stop looking at every crappy veteran player (Ryan Roberts, Josh Fields, looking at you here) and saying, “well, he’s at least better than Uribe!” as though that really meant anything. In Ramirez, you get a guy who really is better than Uribe – .246/.322/.428 with 14 homers and 14 steals isn’t outstanding, but it’s certainly an upgrade – and a guy who could potentially be something more than that, and you do it by eating money (something the new Dodger ownership does not seem troubled with) and by surrendering one good-but-not-great ready-now starter and one low level pitching prospect who I’m sure no more than five of you had heard of.
Ramirez was an immediate smash, getting on base 10 times in his first five games, including three extra-base hits. For a team which had seen so much ineptitude from Uribe & Dee Gordon all season long and hadn’t yet cashed in James Loney for Gonzalez and friends, the sudden influx of offense was more than welcome.
In his third game, he hit a go-ahead homer in the tenth against Sergio Romo & San Francisco to win a crucial matchup. Eight games later, after moving back from third base to shortstop, Ramirez walked off against the Cubs; five days after that, he had three hits and drove in two runs in his return to Miami. On August 18th, he had two dingers against the Braves, and with Cruz establishing himself, we had to take a moment to acknowledge just how much better things had gotten on the left side:
Tonight, Hanley Ramirez (two) & Luis Cruz combined to match that total in only five innings. In the second inning, they teamed with James Loney to go back-to-back-to-back off Atlanta starter Ben Sheets; in the sixth, after Matt Kemp & Andre Ethier walked, Ramirez sealed the game with his second blast of the night.
On September 3, Ramirez homered against San Diego’s Andrew Werner, his tenth as a Dodger and his fourth in seven days, and the era of good feelings was well underway. By that point, Ramirez had played 38 games as a Dodger, with his line sitting at .280/.343/.547 and ten homers. That’s great no matter what, but it’s absolutely phenomenal considering what we had seen come before in the infield.
Unfortunately for Ramirez, that September 3 homer would be his final one of the season, as he got stuck in the same September malaise as the rest of the team. Over the remaining 26 games of the month, he hit only .257/.292/.307 with a 28/3 K/BB. Taking just his time with the Dodgers, his BB% rate (6.3) and KK% (22.1) each represented career worsts, and then of course there’s the fact that he’s a pretty lousy defensive shortstop, by measures both old and new.
So yeah, there’s definitely concerns here going forward. Simply “being better than Uribe & Gordon” isn’t exactly the same thing as “being a productive player,” and merely looking good by comparison isn’t going to be enough for him next year. The biggest concern might be on defense, where I really don’t believe he can be an adequate shortstop. So far, the Dodgers don’t agree, but even if they don’t go out and get the shortstop I still think they need, I can’t see much of an argument for keeping Luis Cruz at third rather than swapping the two. And of course, if Ramirez doesn’t hit better than he did in September then defense may be the least of our problems.
Still, I’m optimistic, and I can’t sit here and say that I’d really rather have Nathan Eovaldi than Ramirez right now. Ramirez is only signed through his age-29 and -30 seasons, exactly where you want to have a player. His overall 2012, if not near his 2007-09 peak, was a step up from his disappointing 2011, and the fact that his power returned after offseason shoulder surgery was encouraging. If Ramirez can simply be convinced to regain his old patience and get his walk rate back up around 10%, all of a sudden you might have a fantastic complimentery piece to Matt Kemp & Adrian Gonzalez.
And if not? Well… at least he’s not Uribe.
Next up! Oh right, we have to spend a day talking about Justin Sellers, wonderful.