Trading Hanley Ramirez

We all knew this day was coming. There was a notion that maybe this time it would be different; maybe with the new stadium in place the Marlins could afford to keep Hanley Ramirez and his rising salary. But even with that in mind his eventual trade seemed inevitable. It would be a tough sell, of course, as it is any time a team trades its franchise player. The current circumstances might make it a bit easier.

The Marlins struggles lately are well documented. After a hot start that had them 10 games over .500 in late May, they’ve dropped 22 of their last 26 and currently sit in the NL East cellar. Things can only get better, but so much has gone wrong this season that it’s unreasonable to expect a full return to their early season performance. The team’s failures, combined with Ramirez’s own struggles, could make it easier for the Marlins to part ways with him and the remainder of his contract. It might not happen at the deadline, but it certainly could happen following this season.

Buster Olney got the conversation started this morning with this tweet.

Jeffrey Loria might love Ramirez, but he also loves not paying players a lot of money. Never in his tenure as Marlins owner has he paid a player $15 million, which is what Ramirez will earn next year. (He had signed Carlos Delgado to a contract that would exceed that milestone in its final year, but then traded him after the first year.) With $45.75 million already committed to five players in 2012, and with a number of players in arbitration, the Marlins very well could trade one of their higher priced players. As the highest priced one coming off what will almost certainly end with numbers below his established norms, Ramirez stands the best chance of having a new home in April, 2012.

Let’s ignore for a second the question of whether the Marlins should trade Hanley. Given ownership’s track record, the question is largely moot. They have their own manner of operating, and unless the new stadium drastically alters it, signs point to them at least considering a Ramirez trade. If they were to put him on the market, they would certainly attract suitors. But what could they get in return?

The first issue affecting a trade is Ramirez’s position. He has a career -9.1 UZR/150 at shortstop, and other defensive metrics rate him around the same level of futility. As Olney later tweeted, other teams believe that “Hanley is too big now to be [an] effective shortstop.” Of course, they could be saying that with the intent of driving down his price, but given his poor defensive marks the sentiment does make sense.

Unless he can handle center field, that might be another reason for the Marlins to explore a trade. They have an up and comer in Matt Dominguez slated for third base, and then have young budding stars Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton in the corner outfield positions. Ramirez’s bat, at least at its peak, will play anywhere, so finding a team with a need at either third base or left field shouldn’t be much of an issue.

The second issue is his performance relative to his contract. From 2012 through 2014 the Marlins owe Ramirez $46.5 million. That wouldn’t be a problem under normal circumstances, even if he moved off shortstop. Under the current circumstances, though, he’s not quite as valuable as when the Marlins signed him to an extension. After establishing himself as a .400+ wOBA player from 2007 through 2009, he dropped to .373 last year before completely falling off the cliff this year. There is time to recover, but even if he does his overall numbers will look poor in comparison to the standard he set.

A trade, then, would amount to a bet by the acquiring team that Ramirez will return to form and provide elite numbers in the middle of the order. What would they be willing to surrender for that? Chances are it will be something less than what the Tigers trade for Miguel Cabrera, which amounted to their two top prospects. Two top-ten prospects would surely be included, and there could be a third. Even while teams are coveting their prospects more than in the past, it’s hard to see any team holding back on a trade that could net them a player such as Ramirez.

The entire idea of trading Ramirez is premised on his return to form this season. If he goes on to produce a .400 wOBA from now through September, chances are he’ll have suitors lining up. If he doesn’t, the Marlins are in a tough position. Would they accept a smaller package of players in order to dump Ramirez’s salary? That’s not an easy question to answer in any case, but the alternative is to continue paying him $15 million per season for production that might not reach that level. At this point we can still expect a return to form by Hanley. Unfortunately, those expectations are lowered if he continues producing at a level below the baseline he set.

This is a question we likely won’t have to revisit until the off-season. Given Ramirez’s performance so far this year, combined with with his relatively poor 2010, plus his positional challenges, chances are teams won’t be knocking on the Marlins door in July. After the season, though, there is a good chance that the Marlins listen to offers, even if Ramirez doesn’t return to form. Given the way the Marlins operate, and given the list of teams that would like to add Hanley, even at a left fielder, it could make for one of the better off-season story lines.

We hoped you liked reading Trading Hanley Ramirez by Joe Pawlikowski!

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Matt Dominguez is a potential gold glove third baseman, not a first baseman.