As the Dodgers continue to steam towards the playoffs, some of the focus has been put on the future, thanks to news from over the the weekend about two of the team’s primary stars. Ken Rosenthal reported that the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw were “close” to signing a 7/$210m contract earlier this year — news which I had reported first, without the specific numbers, back in March — and Dylan Hernandez brought us the news that team owner Mark Walter plans to speak to Hanley Ramirez about an extension this winter. Hernandez had earlier reported that Ramirez hoped to stay in Los Angeles, so the time seems right to investigate what sort of deal might be appropriate.
Trying to find comparables for Ramirez is difficult, however, for a few reasons. To start with, the basics: he’ll be 30 in December, and he has one more year remaining (at $16 million) on the 6/$70m contract he signed with the Marlins prior to 2009, when he was entering his age-25 season and just becoming arbitration-eligible.
Since then, Ramirez has had plenty of ups — his 2009 7.1 WAR campaign is the single most valuable season by any shortstop since he signed that deal, only Troy Tulowitzki has been a more valuable shortstop cumulatively, and he of course has been one of the primary saviors of the Dodger season — and more than a few downs, including lousy seasons in 2011-12, attitude issues in Miami, questionable enough defense that the Marlins pushed him off shortstop entirely, and three different injuries that caused him to miss time this season alone.
Over the last few years, several shortstops have signed contracts or extensions worth three years or more, but you’ll soon see what I meant when I say that none are really great comparables. Elvis Andrus & Starlin Castro each signed huge extensions with the Rangers & Cubs, respectively, but neither is even 25 or was close to free agency. Derek Jeter & Jimmy Rollins each signed three-year deals to remain with their teams, but both are well into their 30s and considered franchise icons, which is seen as adding some amount of value. J.J. Hardy got three years from Baltimore & Erick Aybar five to stay with the Angels, but neither are near the caliber of player Ramirez is; Asdrubal Cabrera is in the middle of a three-year extension with Cleveland, but that was largely about buying out arbitration years.
It’s hard to draw a parallel from the biggest shortstop contract, either, which is the ten-year deal Colorado gave Tulowitzki worth $157.5m following 2010. That included the remaining years on an earlier contract, so the new money was 6/$118m, starting in 2015, four years later(!). Tulowitzki was about to enter his age-26 season, making him considerably younger than Ramirez, which changes the situation considerably.
If there’s anything close to Ramirez, it might be the 6/$106m deal Jose Reyes collected from Miam prior to 2012. That’s how Ramirez ended up at third base, though Reyes played just a single year with Miami before being traded to Toronto. Reyes was a free agent headed into his age-29 season, which makes him two years younger than Ramirez would be if he played out his contract and went into free agency for his age-31 season.
Reyes, like Ramirez, had some injury history, and he was also coming off a fantastic season, having put up 5.8 WAR for the 2011 Mets. In Ramirez’ case, we can probably look past the attitude issues in Miami, since he’s by all indications been nothing but wonderful in Los Angeles, though the idea of giving huge dollars to a guy who has played only 65 games this year as he enters his thirties does scare me.
There’s also the fact that Ramirez likely won’t measure himself only against other shortstops, but other Dodgers. For example, Reyes’ annual average value is $17.6m, roughly the same as Andre Ethier ($17m), but Matt Kemp‘s is $20m, a number that is really either $21m or $21.5m for most years, since the first year included the $10m figure he played at for last season. Zack Greinke‘s on the books for $24m next year, though it’s really $29m if you consider the prorated portion of his signing bonus. Adrian Gonzalez gets $21m yearly, just slightly more than Carl Crawford does, and it’s not difficult for Ramirez to make the argument that he’s provided more value than either. That’s before considering whatever insane figure Kershaw is likely to end up with, which could dwarf them all.
So I think if we’re looking at annual value, topping Reyes is a must and should be considered the absolute floor. My opinion is that I’d always rather overpay in dollars than years, especially as players age past 30, so I’d prefer to go higher value over fewer years. Ramirez isn’t really blocking anyone — Corey Seager is coming, yes, but either of the two could easily end up at third base — but the injuries we’ve seen this year do concern me.
What I’d propose is this: tear up his 2014 year of $16m, and sign him to something like three years and $70m, perhaps with a vesting option for a well-compensated year four. That’s an average value of $23.3m, which should be more than sufficient, and would keep him a Dodger for his age-30, -31, and -32 seasons. If a fourth guaranteed year is a deal-breaker, you could probably go to 4/$95m, though I’d prefer not to. The argument is that Reyes got six guaranteed years but would have hit free agency two years younger, so this would stick to a similar path while paying Ramirez more.
What concerns me is the idea of doing more than that — that Ramirez’ agents take note of Stan Kasten’s opinion that he doesn’t want players signed beyond age 36 and say, “sign him through age 36 then,” or “if you give him six years, that’s only through age 35.” Ramirez is an admittedly great player, but he’s not without his warts, and the idea of giving him a long-term deal as he enters his thirties really does worry me.
There’s also a case to be made, I believe, that the right solution is to simply do nothing at all. After all, Ramirez isn’t a free agent this winter, and there’s reason to believe that there’s absolutely no way he performs in 2014 like he has in 2013, plus you collect more information on if he can really stay healthy. You’re arguably going after him at the peak of his value right now, and that usually ends a lot better for the player than it does the team. It’s not entirely unlikely to think that having him at one year and $16m and still having the option to let him walk after next season if he can’t stay healthy or happy or productive is the best course of action, because you’ll still have the chance to lock him up next summer if you like — though the team may not agree.
Either way, Ramirez will get his money. I hope he remains with the Dodgers. I also hope that the wonderment of a .369 BABIP over 64 games doesn’t cause foolish decisions to be made.