A few weeks ago, Hanley Ramirez mentioned to reporters in the Dominican Republic that he was working on a contract extension with the Dodgers. A few days later, he posted a photo of himself on Instagram with the comment, “Going to L.A. Good news!”
Turns out the Instagram post was just a joke and Ramirez’s agent told MLB.com he was actually headed to the Dominican Republic with no extension imminent.
Clearly, there’s something going on, however. Locking up Clayton Kershaw for a decade or so hasn’t proven easy, so the Dodgers appear to have turned to in-house priority No. 2: making sure Ramirez sticks around beyond November 2014.
Seems like a good idea. Ramirez was as dangerous as any hitter not named Miguel Cabrera last season. When he was healthy, the Dodgers were among the deepest lineups in baseball. When he was not, as in the final few games of the National League Championship Series, they were mediocre, sometimes worse than mediocre. His impact, when he came back from his first stint on the disabled list, was even more profound than Yasiel Puig’s arrival.
What’s a player like that worth? That’s a difficult question to answer because his 2013 season was such a departure from the previous two. His batting average in 2011 and 2012 was .252, his on-base percentage .326. He averaged 17 home runs and 62 RBIs and played well below-average defense at either shortstop or third base. His WAR was barely replacement level.
Then came 2013, in which Ramirez’s production once again matched his enormous talent. He hit .345 with a .402 on-base percentage, slugged .638, had a 5.4 WAR and played roughly average defense at shortstop, according to UZR.
But, again, he played in only 86 regular season games. At times, the Dodgers’ season seemed to hinge on the tender condition of his hamstring. Joe Kelly plugged him with a 95-mph fastball in the first inning of the NLCS and, though Ramirez gamely tried to play with a broken rib, it was painful to watch and he clearly wasn’t the same player.
There are a few ways to explain his sudden spike on production. There’s the motivation factor. Ramirez has professed his love of playing in L.A. after getting out of an uncomfortable situation in Miami, in which he was the lightning rod for criticism and, according to his critics, diffident after signing his first big extension.
There is the health factor. Though he was slowed by leg injuries, he had healed sufficiently from 2010 shoulder surgery – an invasive procedure from which Ramirez still bears the scar – to get full extension on his swing without pain.
But is it enough for the Dodgers to bank on? How many years can the Dodgers afford to commit to keep a 30-year-old player with a lengthy history of time on the disabled list? Troy Tulowitzki, who is two years younger, is three years into a 10-year, $157.5 million contract. David Wright, a year older, is one year into an eight-year, $138 million deal. Adrian Beltre was 31 when he signed his five-year, $80 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
If Ramirez’s body holds up for five or six years, he could be a bargain (relatively speaking) at something like $15 million per year. He’s faster than any of those guys, more powerful than Wright and has a better career OPS than Tulowitzki or Beltre. He’s nowhere near the fielder of any of those players, which is what makes valuing Ramirez so difficult. When he’s healthy, he’s clearly an impact player even if his fielding is sub-par.
All things considered, it feels like only a matter of time before the Dodgers give Ramirez a more permanent home.