The new Dodgers’ ownership is living up to its word—in a big way.
Since purchasing the team earlier this season, Guggenheim Baseball Group has professed its willingness—and determination– to spend whatever money it will take to rebuild the franchise into a perennial World Series contender.
Wednesday was the first step, acquiring three-time All Star shortstop/third baseman Hanley Ramirez and left-handed reliever Randy Choate from the Miami Marlins in exchange for pitching prospects Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. The real cost to the Dodgers, however, is money, as they will be picking up the remainder of Ramirez’ contract—$38 million through the 2014 season.
If his first at bat as a Dodger in any indication, it will be money well spent.
With one out in the top of the second inning in St. Louis, Ramirez stepped to the plate and crushed a Kyle Lohse fastball off the right center field wall and scored on James Loney’s sacrifice fly to right, giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. Rarmirez finished 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored accounting for both of the Dodgers runs in a 3-2, 12-inning loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday.
Although he started at third base, Ramirez will likely move back to his natural position—shortstop—while incumbent Dee Gordon recovers from thumb surgery. A possible scenario has Ramirez—who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery himself—going on a tear and the Dodgers being reluctant to move him over to third base. Manager Don Mattingly acknowledged in a conference call that Hanley might stay at short. Or might not.
“Hanley expressed that he’ll do anything we need to help the team win,” Mattingly said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. “(But as far as Ramirez staying at shortstop) nothing is ever really set in stone. It’s a competitive world we’re in, so we’re going to play this out. Right now, Dee is unavailable and the best scenario is Hanley playing shortstop. When Dee comes back, that changes the dynamic and we’ll make a decision on what to do.”
General Manager Ned Colletti believes that Gordon will be back on the left side of the infield when he’s healthy.
“When Dee is healthy, Donnie will have a decision to make,” he said. “I think that decision will be Dee Gordon playing shortstop.”
Ramirez was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006 and is a career .300 hitter who won the N.L. batting title with a .342 average in 2009. He’s hit 148 homers and driven in 482 runs in 945 games. Since hurting his shoulder, though, his average and production have fallen noticeably, and there was talk that his attitude had gone south as well. When fellow All Star Jose Reyes signed a $106 million free agent contract this past offseason, Ramirez was forced to play third base and wasn’t happy about it. He complained loud and often before and during spring training, but once the games began, he seemed happy to still be in Miami.
“This is bittersweet for me,” said Ramirez, his voice cracking before he boarded a flight to join the Dodgers in St. Louis. “I had a hard time sleeping (Tuesday) night, knowing I wasn’t going to be in Miami anymore. But this is a great chance to join a great team. But it’s a little sad, too.”
His outlook had changed, though, by the time he got to Busch Stadium.
“I’m really happy to be here,” HanRam said in the Dodger clubhouse prior to the game. “This is an organization with a lot of history,
“I never thought I was going to get traded, but what can I say? It’s a business, nothing I can control. All I can control is to go out there and play hard every day.”
Andy Mota—son of former Dodger star Manny and brother of FSW’s Jose—is one of Hanley’s agents, said Ramirez was indeed torn about the move, but as time went on, he was very happy to be a Dodger.
“He said it was bittersweet, and it was,” Mota said. “This is home for him, where he started, where he got a chance to play. But after the news conference Wednesday he was happy and anxious to begin this new part of his career.”
Mota also wanted to make it clear that there were no problems between the Marlins and Ramirez or between Reyes and Ramirez.
“None at all, no bitter feelings,” Mota reported. “That stuff started out in spring training, but there was never any truth to it. Hanley and Jose had no problems and Hanley loved being a Marlin.”
Marlin President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest, though, seemed to contradict those statements at the same podium. He hinted that a change of scenery might be good for both principals.
“Maybe it’s time for a fresh start for Hanley, and maybe it’s time for a fresh start with the Marlins” Beinfest said. “We could not figure out why Hanley and his talent, in his prime, was hitting in the mid-.240s. So hopefully he will do what he’s capable of, which is obviously not a .245 hitter.
Ramirez—if he lives up to his prior career performances—will be the Dodgers most prolific shortstop since the great Maury Wills, a five-time All Star, 1962 N.L. MVP when he stole 104 bases, as well as a two-time Gold Glove winner. As Wills could change the game with his legs, Hanley can do it with his bat. And he’s the perfect early example of management’s commitment to the fans.
“Money will not stand in the way of a true baseball move,” Colletti said on the conference call. “(Ownership) came in and told us we’d have the right to do whatever we had to do if it was the right baseball move.”
When asked if he was ever skeptical that the new ownership was all fizzle and no sizzle, Colletti laughed.
“Not this group,” Colletti said. “All you have to look at is their record. Between Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson, Mark Walter and Peter Guber and the others, they are all successes.
“I’ve known Stan when he was (building winners) with other organizations, and with Magic all you have to do is look at what he’s done to see how he operates. And the Guggenheim Group—these people are the real deal. I knew that when they said things would be different, they would be. That’s why you have days like today. And we’re still in the market for a starting pitcher and another bat. If it makes sense, we’ll do it.”