After latest blunder, what should Dodgers do with Ramirez?
Hanley Ramirez’s defense at shortstop only cost the Dodgers a perfect game Wednesday night. What might it cost the team in September and potentially October? What might it cost Ramirez in free agency after that?
Many expected the Dodgers to sign Ramirez to an extension by now. It hasn’t happened, in part because the Dodgers want to see him stay healthy, in part because they might not be sure what the heck to do with him long term.
Third base could be a possibility, but the Dodgers would need to trade Juan Uribe, a popular clubhouse figure who is under contract for $6.5 million next season. Some Dodgers officials have toyed with the idea of playing Ramirez in left field, but you may have noticed that the team has too many outfielders already.
Maybe the Dodgers could win the 2014 World Series with Ramirez at short — heck, the Red Sox pulled off such a feat with Julio Lugo in ‘07. Advanced metrics, however, portray Ramirez as one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. And strong up-the-middle defense should be a requirement for a team built around starting pitching, no?
Erisbel Arruebarrena, a Cuban defector in the first year of a five-year, $25 million contract, was a major defensive upgrade in his brief stint with the club. But the Dodgers have said that they do not want to shift Ramirez between short and third, perhaps out of respect for Ramirez’s wishes. Besides, Uribe could return from his strained right hamstring on Monday.
For this season, it appears, the Dodgers have little choice but to play Ramirez at short; they probably value his offense too much to trade him. But if Ramirez hits free agency, his market could turn problematic at a time when teams continue to place increased emphasis on defense. Indeed, what would it say about Ramirez if the Dodgers only were willing to make him a qualifying offer?
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Ramirez and many of his teammates are on the uptick offensively. The Dodgers, winners of eight of their last 11, are only four games behind the Giants in the NL West. A big run to the postseason, a World Series title, and Ramirez’s attributes again might outweigh his deficiencies.
Still, his poor throw that cost Clayton Kershaw a perfect game came on a play, as Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully noted, that most shortstops make. Ramirez didn’t make it. He is costing his team. He is costing himself.
Beyond Ramirez, questions persist about the Dodgers, just as they do for every club.
One rival executive said Thursday that the Dodgers’ best outfield would be Matt Kemp in left, Joc Pederson in center and Yasiel Puig in right. The exec added that the Dodgers should trade one of their left-handed hitting outfielders, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford, and keep the other in reserve.
Easier said than done.
Pederson, while batting .320 with a 1.016 OPS in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, continues to strike out a ton, including 13 times in his last 28 at-bats. Crawford remains on the DL with a sprained left ankle. Ethier has only three homers and a .691 OPS. And let’s not even talk about their respective contracts.
Kemp finally is getting hot, his disposition improving with his swing. Many in the industry, however, believe he ultimately will be moved — most likely in the offseason — due to his tempestuous relationship with some of his superiors.
The Dodgers trail only the Cardinals and Athletics in rotation ERA. Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu are perhaps the best 1-2-3 in the game. But does anyone seriously expect Josh Beckett and Dan Haren to hold up the entire season?
The loss of Chad Billingsley, who will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn flexor tendon in his right elbow, hurt the Dodgers’ depth. The team lacks a prospect as polished as Marlins left-hander Andrew Heaney, who made his major-league debut Thursday night. The situation, in the words, of one club official, is “precarious.”
So, expect the Dodgers to be in the market for a starter.
THE ORGANIZATION AS A WHOLE
The Dodgers have yet to slow down their spending, so it’s natural for them to be linked to a pitcher such as the Rays’ David Price, who could give them a third pitcher earning $20 million next season.
The team, however, likely would need to part with two or more of its top prospects to get Price, and its farm system isn’t terribly deep to begin with (Price’s teammate, super-utility man Ben Zobrist, is another potential LA target).
Club officials keep talking about developing youngsters such as Pederson and shortstop Corey Seager so they don’t need to maintain a $230 million payroll. They’ve made progress not only in signing players from Cuba, but also Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. Still, are they truly intent on developing a player-development machine?
The July 31 non-waiver deadline could prove the next test.
Much has been made of Price’s loss of fastball velocity, from an average of 95.3 mph in 2012 to 93.5 in ’13 to 92.6 this season. But can anyone seriously argue that his stuff is significantly diminished?
As pointed out by Rays Index earlier this week, Price is on pace for 280 strikeouts this season, which would be the most since Randy Johnson in 2004. Price’s 12.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, meanwhile, would break the record set by Brett Saberhagen in 1994 (11.0).
Based upon those numbers, it’s impossible to say that Price is losing it, even though his 3.93 ERA is — for him — unusually high. Poor luck, however, may help explain that number.
Price’s home run rate and opponents’ batting average on balls in play are well above league averages, and probably will revert to his career norms as the season progresses.
Meanwhile, Price’s FIP (fielding independent pitching) is within the same range it has been for the past two seasons. That statistic is considered an indicator of future performance, signaling that Price’s ERA likely will drop.
The biggest issue for teams that want to acquire Price, as FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote Wednesday, is not his pitching. No, it’s his expected $18 million to $20 million salary in his final year of arbitration in 2015.
Few clubs will want to part with high-end prospects while absorbing such a payroll hit. Then again, the numbers are relative. Price’s salary next season will not be terribly above the qualifying offer for free agents, which is expected to be $15 million to $16 million.
The Phillies, despite their recent surge, surely recognize that they need to get younger. But even if the team has the will to be active sellers, it might not have a way.
Second baseman Chase Utley, after telling club officials last July that he did not want to be traded, signed a two-year extension with three club options. Now, less than a year later, he’s going to reverse a course, waive his 10-and-5 rights and approve a deal?
Don’t count on it.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, another 10-and-5 player, left open the possibility that he would approve a trade after breaking the team’s all-time hit record last weekend. But realistically, where is Rollins going?
The shortstop’s wife is from Philadelphia. They are the parents of two young children. And good luck finding the right fit.
Rollins’ $11 million option for 2015 is almost certain to vest; he would not be just a rental. No, he would need to be comfortable spending the rest of this season in his new city, and all of next season as well.
Neither team in Rollins’ native Bay Area needs a shortstop. And while Rollins might crave the spotlight in either New York or LA, he wouldn’t go to the Mets, the Yankees aren’t going to displace Derek Jeter and neither the Angels nor Dodgers figures to pursue a shortstop.
Then there is left-hander Cliff Lee, who — if all goes well — will return from his strained elbow before the All-Star break. By July 31, Lee still will have more than $45 million left on his contract, including a $12.5 million buyout for 2016.
The financial obligation number actually might be higher than that for many; Lee can block trades to 20 teams, and could require his $27.5 million vesting option for ’16 to be guaranteed to join a club such as the Dodgers.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said he would include cash in certain deals. The Phillies always could trade Lee during the August waiver period. But unless the team paid the majority of his contract, it could not expect a bounty in return.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon could get moved if the Phillies pay down his $13 million salary; he, too, has a vesting option for ’16, and can only be traded to 12 teams without his approval.
Get the picture?
Unless the Phils get truly creative, they will find it difficult to make impact moves.
I normally do not favor starting pitchers for MVP unless the field lacks strong position-player candidates; I voted for then-Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011 over the eventual winner, Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander.
An interesting MVP case, however, can be made for Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, at least to this point of the season.
The Yankees are 12-2 when Tanaka starts, 25-31 when he does not. Even more striking, their run differential in Tanaka’s starts is plus-33, while in all other games it’s minus-54.
In other words, the Yankees are worse than the Rays (minus-48) when Tanaka isn’t pitching and nearly as bad as the Padres (minus-62) and Diamondbacks (minus-64).
Of course, Wins Above Replacement (WAR) tells a different story. Tanaka is third among pitchers at 2.9 in the FanGraphs version of the metric, and well behind Mike Trout, the leader among position players at 4.7.
Outfielder J.D. Martinez is one of the Tigers’ few recent bright spots; he has three homers during his nine-game hitting streak, and is now batting .300 with a .903 OPS in 108 plate appearances on the season.
Martinez, 26, spent the offseason watching video of Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and other accomplished hitters, then completely overhauled his swing and approach. The Astros released him in spring training, and he signed a minor-league contract with the Tigers two days later.
“If you watch video of me in the past, it’s the complete opposite — it’s that extreme,” he said. “It’s kind of like I re-invented myself.”
Martinez worked with his personal hitting coach for three weeks, then implemented his new ideas in Venezuela. Mostly, he’s trying to line up directly to the ball and keep the barrel of his bat in the zone longer — the way Cabrera does.