Here’s Who Isn’t Playing Third Base Next Year

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Ned Colletti dropped some truth about the Dodger infield today, and a few of the usuals collected his comments. I assume by this point I don’t need to add the caveat that there’s generally an 80% chance of what a GM says publicly is less than truthful.

1) Hanley Ramirez is not under consideration for third base. That’s not a terribly big surprise, as much as many of us would like him to. It’s not like there’s another internal option for shortstop, and Stephen Drew (who would cost a pick) is the best of a poor free agent market. Ramirez reportedly would be open to a discussion, but that conversation hasn’t happened since he came to Los Angeles.

2) Neither is Alexander Guerrero. He’s “still being considered” for starting second baseman, but that’s dependent on winter ball playing time.

So we know who isn’t playing third. Who is? My money is still on Juan Uribe, especially if recent reports indicating he’s come off a three-year request are accurate. We’ll know soon; Uribe is likely to get signed one way or another this week.

Hanley Ramirez Extension Could Happen Soon

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Update: Ken Gurnick reports that Ramirez’ agent said the Instagram post was “a joke” and that he really went to the Dominican Republic. I trust Gurnick’s reporting, but I’m not sure I’m fully buying the agent’s story. What’s more likely — that Ramirez riled up the fans for no reason, or that his agent is being less than truthful and is doing his best to muzzle Ramirez before the deal is actually done?

If it seems like a Hanley Ramirez contract extension is imminent, that’s because it probably is, and not just because the shortstop is headed into the final year of his contract. It’s because Ramirez apparently can’t stop telling people about it. Just over a week ago, he told ESPN Deportes that he was negotiating a long-term deal; last night, he posted to Instagram a picture of himself on a plane with the caption “To Los Angeles…. Good news!!!!”

Presumably, he’s headed to town because a deal is close — no reason for him to be there for the nitty-gritty of negotiations, not when he’s paying an agent for that — and even more presumably, it could be done quickly, because one would think that Ned Colletti and crew are headed off to Orlando and the winter meetings no later than this evening.

So while I think we all expect there to be a deal, the question then becomes, how much and for how long?

Back in August, I attempted to project what he could get. After floating the idea that doing nothing at all and letting him prove his health might be best, we came to this:

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.

Well prepare for worry, and I said that before the nerve pain in his back or the broken ribs in the NLCS. Now I’m thinking what he’s going to get is going to be far more than that, likely for around six years and in the $100m to $120m range. That’s partially due to what I’ve heard and partially due to the way the market has shaken out, especially with Robinson Cano blowing up everyone for $240m.

Ramirez isn’t getting anywhere near that kind of deal, of course. Though he is more than a year younger than Cano, he’s not a free agent and has a far more checkered history of health and production than Seattle’s new toy. Still, the ten-year mega-deal does make it a bit harder to pitch the high-AAV/low-years idea, and it seems like we may have a lot of Hanley for a long time to come.

That’s fine if he’s healthy, though of course he rarely was in 2013. It was such a weird year for him, because on one hand it’s difficult to kill a guy for fluke injuries like the thumb in the WBC, or the shoulder in Chicago, or the ribs courtesy of Joe Kelly, but when those things just keep on happening, it’s hard to keep calling them “flukes”.

There’s also the question about what this does to the future of the infield on the left side. This doesn’t really “block” shortstop prospect Corey Seager, because either or both are more likely third basemen, but then that means one of the two may be at short for longer than anyone would like.

Obviously, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, because nothing is done yet, and it’s great to keep an immense talent like Ramirez in the organization. I think we all saw how different the lineup was without him. Still, depending on the terms, I think I’ll be mostly happy, yet not without considerable reservations.

Let The “Hanley Ramirez To Third Base” Speculation Begin

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We all know that the Dodgers currently have a giant hole at third base, because it’s something we’ve been talking about for weeks. Simply look at the organizational depth chart: the top four teams have nothing at the position, and if the Dodgers needed to field a team today, it would probably be with Justin Sellers filling in at the hot corner. But we also know that options are so, so limited. The best choice at the moment seems to be to bring back Juan Uribe, which isn’t without risk, or make an expensive trade for one year Chase Headley, or gamble David Freese. It’s not pretty, and it’s not like they are the only team that needs help at the position — the Yankees & Angels, to name just two, also have questions.

So while we don’t yet know who is going to be in the lineup at third when the Dodgers open the season in Australia, Ken Gurnick does toss out an interesting proposition:

The Dodgers are not expected to bid on second baseman Robinson Cano, but with free agency thin at third base, they will consider moving Ramirez to third base (probably paired with a contract extension) and acquiring a shortstop in a trade. Stephen Drew is considered the best free-agent shortstop available.

That’s interesting, because it’s the first time we’ve heard from anyone other than random fans that Ramirez moving to third base might be an option. It’s hardly a new idea, of course, because the Marlins did just that in 2012, and we spent most of last winter preferring that he play third rather than short. But it’s a topic that has largely died down since then, both because it seemed unlikely the team would risk upsetting Ramirez after we’ve seen what he can do when he’s happy & motivated, and because he played a surprisingly decent defensive shortstop after years of being lousy there.

I’m not sure if there’s anything to this, or if it’s just Gurnick speculating, though he’s rarely the type to toss out an idea without at least something behind it. The idea of it being paired with a contract extension makes a ton of sense; there’s no better way to keep a player happy than to give him many, many millions of dollars to go along with a plan. And for as well as Ramirez did play the position this year, it’s still not like he’s a big plus there — not to mention, the approximately 83 different injuries he suffered this year can’t have helped his mobility.

So it’s an option, but is it worth it? We never really looked into the shortstop market here, but it’s not like that’s much more robust than third base is. As Gurnick says, Stephen Drew is the best available, but that also makes him in demand. He’ll probably get a three- or four-year deal for between $11m and $14m annually, and he’ll cost a draft pick. Jhonny Peralta is an option as well and won’t cost a draft pick, but his ability to play both short and third makes him a hot commodity for many teams, and then you wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to just stick him at third rather than move Ramirez.

Alexander Guerrero is playing multiple infield positions in winter ball — or he was; there were reports of a minor leg injury yesterday, though details remain scarce — but almost no one thinks he can handle shortstop in the bigs, and you don’t imagine the team would have let Mark Ellis go if they didn’t expect him to play second. You could try to bid on the overvalued J.J. Hardy or the declining Asdrubal Cabrera; you could try to pry Elvis Andrus and his insane contract out of Texas. There’s more options than at third, but also many teams — Cardinals, Mets, perhaps Yankees, etc — who badly need a shortstop. (No, Dee Gordon is not an option. No, neither was Nick Punto on an every day basis, though I would have liked him back on the bench before he went to Oakland yesterday.)

Of course, moving Ramirez to third with an extension brings up another issue: it blocks Corey Seager, who is still far more likely to be a third baseman than a shortstop and between that and Ramirez’ likely unhappiness with the idea, well, I’m going to guess that such a switch isn’t happening. But with the total dearth of third base options, it’s not unreasonable to speculate about.

2013 Dodgers in Review #9: SS Hanley Ramirez

90topps_hanleyramirez.345/.402/.638 336pa 20hr .442 wOBA 5.1 fWAR A

2013 in brief: Might have been the NL MVP had he been able to stay healthy for more than ten minutes in a row.

2014 status: Under contract for one more year at $16m.

Previous: 2012

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You know what the funny part about Hanley Ramirez‘ season was? No one remembers it now, but we spent all winter worrying about, of all things, the fact that he wasn’t playing shortstop at all in winter ball and/or should be the team’s third baseman. This was such a pressing concern that we talked about in December, January, February, again in February, and — after a brief break to watch him put up an 80-grade pimp on a WBC homer — in March.

Then, something like five hours after that March post, this happened in the final game of the WBC, and it was a sad foreshadowing of what the entire season was going to be like:

We soon learned Ramirez would need surgery on that thumb, and while the idea of improved infield defense was appealing, the prospect of an infield left side that was full of Luis Cruz, Justin Sellers, and Dee Gordon was certainly not. Sellers got the first crack and was awful, so we were thrilled when Ramirez returned on April 29 and moreso when he had five hits, including two doubles and a homer, in his first two starts.

But then, in a cruel joke that seemed to fit all too well into the cursed first half this team had, Ramirez tried to go first-to-third in his fourth game back and crumpled with an injured left hamstring. Once again, we worried about the backup plan — this time, it was Gordon who fumbled his chance — until Ramirez finally returned again on June 4.

Even then, it wasn’t smooth sailing, because Ramirez started two games, then not another until June 14 due to soreness in that same hamstring. He had just a single hit in 10 plate appearances in a series in Pittsburgh, then went off in Yankee Stadium, collecting six hits in a single day (it was, to be fair, a doubleheader) including a laser beam homer.

That day was June 19, and that’s important, because that was three days before the unprecedented turnaround began. For all the attention given to Yasiel Puig — rightfully so — the team didn’t start winning when he came up. It was when Ramirez finally got healthy and hot that things turned around, and as we saw in the playoffs, this lineup functions so, so differently without him.

On June 23, he and Adrian Gonzalez hit back-to-back homers off Huston Street in the ninth to win in San Diego, and clearly we had no idea what we were in for: 

Special attention here must be paid to Ramirez, who followed up yesterday’s absolute rocket with today’s no-doubter, and is now hitting .358/.397/.679 in 58 plate appearances on the season. That’s obviously a small sample size, and he’s not going to keep it up all season, of course, but just having him in the lineup after months of Dee GordonJustin Sellers, & Luis Cruz… well, it really does change everything, and we’ve seen that in the last few days.

I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. From June 19 to July 19, Ramirez hit .420/.482/.780. With the exception of August, his OPS was north of 1.000 in every single month of the season.

By July 8, Ramirez’ performance was so astounding that we were actually wondering if he wasn’t getting enough credit for it:

Here’s the full list of players who have been more productive offensive weapons than Hanley Ramirez over the last 30 days: ______________.

If Ramirez had been merely replacement-level, that would have been an improvement. If he’d been just league-average, that would have been a nice step up. (Those two things are not the same, as many often forget.) Ramirez hasn’t been either of those things; he’s been beyond phenomenal, and I can’t imagine that there’s been any other position in baseball that’s swung from that low to this high due to a single move. As Jon Weisman pointed out recently, the Dodgers only have shortstops who hit above .400 or below .200. There’s not a lot of middle ground here, and the Dodgers have won 14 of the 21 starts he’s made since coming off the disabled list.

It just kept going. On July 19, he hit a homer off Stephen Strasburg to help Ricky Nolasco to victory. The next day, he had three hits, including a tenth-inning double, as the Dodgers drew within one game of first. The next — yes, the day Matt Kemp destroyed his ankle — he hit a three-run homer off of Jordan Zimmermann as the Dodgers swept the Nationals.

Later that week, we reached the one-year anniversary of the trade that had brought him to the Dodgers, and there was no doubt that the deal looked even better than it did at the time. By August 2, his performance had so crazy that we were actually talking about him on a historic scale and invoking the names Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds, while of course knowing that he wasn’t going to play a full season.

Two days later, I named a post “Worst Case Scenario”. Here’s why:

To which I said, “Ramirez came out of the stands and immediately doubled over in pain, then left the game as we all died a million deaths on the inside” as we once again pondered a world of Gordon and Nick Punto.

Fortunately, he avoided the disabled list, though he didn’t start again for ten days thanks to his injured right shoulder, and hit only .254/.293/.507 in August. Still, that didn’t stop us from wondering what a contract extension might look like, and it seemed like the good times were back when he hit .370/.462/.704 in September. But he missed several games with a nerve problem that was causing back pain, and the injuries woes still weren’t over.

In the NLDS, Ramirez hit .500/.556/1.063 with six extra base hits. That’s good. But you all know where this is headed, because in Game 1 of the NLCS, Joe Kelly fractured Ramirez’ ribs, and the Dodger shortstop either couldn’t play or was extremely limited for the remainder of the series. I still don’t think Kelly did it on purpose, and considering how all that young St. Louis pitching performed it might not have made a different… but it certainly didn’t help, did it?

So the end results of Ramirez’ 2013 is that it was alternately as exciting and depressing a year as we’ve ever seen. In only 86 games, he put up 5.1 WAR, partially because his defense at shortstop seemed improved. That’s… just not right. And it makes his future less clear than ever, I think. He’s one of the best players in the game when he’s healthy, and yes, some of what happened to him this year falls under the “freak injury” category. But when a guy turns 30, it’s not usually a safe bet to expect him to be more healthy. No matter what happens going forward, 2013 was a magical year — and I have high hopes for him in 2014.

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Next! Nick Punto was shockingly really good!

What To Do With Hanley Ramirez

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Steve Dilbeck thinks the Dodgers should sit him. Ken Gurnick & Chris Haft suggest that dropping him in the order might be a possibility. In practice, the Dodgers are likely to do neither.

What should be done with Hanley Ramirez? At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

What’s clear is that Ramirez is terribly limited by the fractured rib he suffered when Joe Kelly hit him with a pitch in Game 1. Ramirez missed Game 2, came out after 8 innings in a double switch in Game 3, and made it through only six innings in Games 4 and 5. Over the three games in Los Angeles, he collected just two hits — neither hit hard — while striking out three times, and while he hasn’t caused any obvious damage in the field, he’s certainly not looking great out there.

We’ve seen all too often how different this lineup looks without Ramirez in it, but there’s an argument to be made that the Ramirez we know and love isn’t actually in it right now even when he is. Unfortunately, the alternatives are sparse. Nick Punto offers a defensive upgrade, at least; Michael Young absolutely does not, and I’m not even going to talk about Dee Gordon here.

It’s possible, of course, that the day off in between games has Ramirez feeling better headed into tonight. We can’t know that from this perspective, but it also doesn’t seem like a mere day can make a lot of difference there. So what do you do? Do you put him out there hoping that he can get around on Michael Wacha fastballs? Do you drop him in the order, perhaps pushing Yasiel Puig up? Is it perhaps more effective to have him off the bench for a tight spot late, hoping that he’ll be more effective in one plate appearance than he would be trying to gut his way through three or four plus an evening in the field, especially when that might get him up rather than Young inevitably grounding into a double play?

I think he’ll be in the starting lineup, hitting third, because it’s Game 6 of the NLCS and it’s an elimination game, so of course he will. But whether or not that’s the right way to go, well… I’m just not sure.