No News Probably Isn’t Good News On Hanley Ramirez

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Despite an unconfirmed report out of the Dominican that Hanley Ramirez had been diagnosed with two broken ribs and would be out for the playoffs, the Dodgers are continuing to play this close to the vest, so far refusing to provide results of yesterday’s CT scan and calling him a “gametime decision”. The apparent reasoning, according to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times, is “gamesmanship”; that is, they don’t want the Cardinals to know what to plan for.

Really, this is a lose/lose situation. If Ramirez can’t go, then the Dodgers are stuck with Nick Punto‘s total lack of offense again. (Not to mention, you know how locker rooms function; there’s always going to be a sense of “rub some dirt on it!” reaction from teammates, no matter how foolish, especially in the playoffs.). If he can go, he’s almost certainly going to be limited — if his ribs truly are fractured, I can’t imagine how painful swinging the bat must be — on both sides of the ball, which doesn’t help either.

If word comes down that he’s seriously injured and can’t play in the next few days, then the Dodgers could replace him on the roster, but that almost seems pointless. It’s not like adding Jerry Hairston or Chris Capuano (who I imagine would be considered) would really make a difference, and such a move would make Ramirez ineligible for the World Series anyway. Not that that’s really a consideration at this point, because the Dodgers absolutely must beat Adam Wainwright tonight. That’s not an easy task even with a healthy Ramirez. Without him? Can’t say I love the odds.

Reds 3, Dodgers 2: Swept Right On Out of Town

ramirez_homer_2013-09-08So here’s the good news: Clayton Kershaw went seven innings against the Reds tonight, and he allowed just three hits and only two runs. I’m pretty sure that if we’d been given that option prior to the game, most of us would have taken it; it’s difficult to look at that outcome and think “man, Kershaw wasn’t great.”

But man… Kershaw wasn’t great, except that perhaps the simple fact that he was able to hold the Reds to such little run production on a night where he looked so off is the true indicator of his greatness. Two of those three hits were home runs by Jay Bruce, and his command was really a mess all night long, particularly with the curve.

Kershaw hit two Reds, walked three more, and tossed in a balk (a more than questionable one, but still) for good measure. Kershaw had just one clean inning, and even walked opposing pitcher Homer Bailey during a mess of a third inning that briefly had the bases loaded with one out, avoiding disaster only when Joey Votto‘s smoked line drive found Adrian Gonzalez‘ glove. It’s another in a run of somewhat disappointing Kershaw starts — still fantastic for any other human being, but less so for the best pitcher alive — and it’s starting to get a little concerning.

Also concerning? A fourth loss in a row (for the first time in four months, to be fair), and a three-game sweep at the hands of what might be a playoff opponent. Chris Withrow followed Kershaw by blowing away three Cincinnati hitters, making eight strikeouts in 10 hitters faced by the rookie since the team left for Colorado. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Withrow who stayed in for the ninth, nor was it Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t been seen since Monday.

It was Ronald Belisario, and while I like Belisario more than most… you don’t lose games with your best watching from the sideline, and you never wait for “a save situation” on the road. I mean, if you’re a major league manager, you do, but you shouldn’t. A single and a double (and a lousy relay throw) later, the Reds were coming home with the winning run and the Dodgers limp back west.

It should be noted, of course, that Bailey was outstanding and the umpire’s strike zone was generous, yet Hanley Ramirez still plated both runs with a double and a homer. But other than a sorely needed two-hit night by A.J. Ellis, that’s all the offense could muster, and a resurgence from the bats back home would be welcome just about any day now.

Once again, the Dodgers head back home from the Eastern time zone without a day’s rest — and in this case, without a day game — and immediately welcome the Diamondbacks, who are still 11 games out after losing to San Francisco in extra innings.

Pondering a Hanley Ramirez Contract Extension

ramirez_2013-08-18As 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.

Phillies 3, Dodgers 2: Done In By Defense

ramirez_error_2013-08-18Not that I’m really going to complain a lot about a getaway day loss after winning 42 of 50, but I do feel the need to at least stand up for Brandon League here, since he’s going to get dumped on for this one. After entering a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the ninth after Paco Rodriguez got the first out, League got Casper Wells to ground out to shortstop for the second out.

…or it would have been, had Hanley Ramirez not made a poor throw that backup first baseman Jerry Hairston couldn’t dig out. League then allowed a hit to Dodger-killer Carlos Ruiz, his fourth hit of the day, but a very nice Yasiel Puig defensive play (attempting, perhaps, to make up for yet another baserunning miscue) prevented Wells from scoring.

League intentionally walked pinch-hitter Jimmy Rollins to load the bases for pinch-hitter Michael Young, who heroically grounded into what should have been an inning-ending double play… except Ramirez bobbled that one too, and Wells scored easily. League is still pretty bad, but he more or less did his job, except his defense failed him.

Anyway, I really can’t get all that aggravated about the team losing their fourth game since the All-Star break, so I won’t. Andre Ethier hit a homer off lefty Cole Hamels, which was nice, and Ricky Nolasco extended the team’s scoreless inning streak to 30 innings before Darin Ruf took him deep to left in the fourth.

Hamels was really very good, and the Dodgers couldn’t generate… well, look. 42 wins in the last 51 games. No one wins every game, as much as this team likes to prove otherwise. They’ll head to Miami tomorrow, and pick it up there. Not much else to say, really.

The Hanley Ramirez Backup Plan

gordon_sanfran_2013-05-04When I said yesterday that Hanley Ramirez may be the most irreplaceable player on this team, I really meant that. You can (and, as we’ve seen, already have) deal with losing Matt Kemp or Carl Crawford for some time because there’s great depth in the outfield. You can live without players like Mark Ellis or Juan Uribe, because neither are really that great and there’s a ton of utility guys floating around here. You can’t really ever replace Clayton Kershaw, I suppose, but at least that’s only one out of every five games.

But Ramirez is different because we’ve already seen what happens when he’s not available, and it’s not pretty. They tried Justin Sellers when Ramirez missed the start of the season with an injured thumb, and they got a line of .188/.263/.246 with mediocre defense. They tried Dee Gordon when Ramirez hurt his hamstring shortly after returning, and for that they got a line of .175/.278/.254 with terrible defense. They’ll probably have Nick Punto in the lineup tonight in St. Louis, but he’s hitting all of .213/.276/.275 since May 1 and isn’t someone you can count on on a daily basis.

Considering how great Ramirez has been, there might not be a larger dropoff in the game from a starter to a backup. No, really — look at the Dodger shortstops on FanGraphs. Ramirez has a massive .447 wOBA. Punto lags behind at .280, and Gordon, Sellers, and long-gone Luis Cruz are far behind that. This team has either “amazing” or “atrocious” at shortstop. There just isn’t a middle-ground option there.

So now we wait for updates on Ramirez’ shoulder injury, and we try not to read Dylan Hernandez’ report that notes “high-ranking club officials said they were bracing themselves for the worst.” We know that Gordon didn’t play last night in Fresno for the Isotopes — Elian Herrera, Alex Castellanos, and Sellers all did — and we start to think about what the options might be here if and when Ramirez is unavailable for a third time.

Due to the configuration of the roster, a move is almost an absolute necessity unless Ramirez is magically going to be able to play in St. Louis. Other than Punto, there’s really not anyone on the active roster who’s even an option to play shortstop, and while I know that both Jerry Hairston & Uribe have past experience there, that was a long time ago. Besides, since Scott Van Slyke was optioned out for Stephen Fife yesterday, the team is already carrying 13 pitchers. That means that they really can’t handle having Ramirez eating up a roster spot for a few days while they try to get him healthy, because that many pitchers means that Don Mattingly has a short bench even if everyone can go.

So if you’re making a move internally, it has to be Gordon or Sellers, and the team appears to have selected Gordon based on the semi-scientific evidence of “he didn’t play last night”. He’s coming off a hot July for the Isotopes (.356/.455/.436, though let’s not ignore the .424 BABIP) while Sellers struggled (.229/.302/.386), so fine. This is a team that really doesn’t have much speed off the bench, so I don’t hate the idea of Gordon being available to run for Adrian Gonzalez or Andre Ethier or whomever in the late innings.

The only real issue there is that he wouldn’t just be a pinch-runner, he’d be needed at shortstop since Punto can’t go everyday, and there’s little indication that the defense has really improved from the mess we’ve seen. He’s got 17 errors in 65 games so far this year (though zero in 15 appearances at second base), and this scouting report from Baseball Hot Corner from just four days ago doesn’t really give you confidence:

Gordon’s defense was also shaky tonight, having committed a throwing error in the first inning which lead to the River Cats scoring their first run.  In the 4th inning, he ranged to his left for a grounder up the middle, going down to a slide to field the ball and ended up booted in into short right-center.  No error was given on the play, but if he would have drives glove first, he may have been able to field the ball cleanly and throw the batter out at first.  A tough play no doubt, but he could have fielded the ball better.  He did have one redeeming play in the bottom of the 8th inning when he made a nice play on a ball hit to the third/short gap.  Gordon chased it down in the gap and made a crisp throw to first to get the batter out.  But overall, his performance tonight was under-whelming.

For a team that’s succeeded lately really due much more to great pitching than people think, putting such a lousy defender at the most important defensive position doesn’t seem wonderful. (Yes, I see the irony here, because we said that about Ramirez as well; he did end up being better than expected. Which isn’t to say good, of course.)

Still, options are limited, and if it’s for a week or two or three, you probably suck it up and try to get by with Gordon and Punto. But if it’s more? If it turns out this is something serious that costs Ramirez a month or — lord help us — the remainder of the season? Gordon / Punto does not seem like a combo that you take into October, and that means we get into the scary territory of over-priced waiver deals for underperforming veterans like Jimmy Rollins or Alexei Ramirez or someone similar.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves, however, because we still don’t know what’s going to come of Ramirez’ injury. Hopefully, we’re talking about an absence of days, not weeks, though it sure didn’t look great when he came out of the stands doubled over in obvious pain. My guess? Gordon gets activated tonight, and either Ramirez goes to the disabled list or Carlos Marmol or Chris Withrow finds his way off the pitching staff. No matter what the details are, this team needs Ramirez to be okay. Even seeing how great things have gone over the last six weeks, I’m not sure they can win without him.