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Dodgers Right to Balk at Hanley Ramirez's $130 Million Asking Price

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 1: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts to being called out on strikes against the Minnesota Twins during the eighth inning in game two of a doubleheader on May 1, 2014 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Dodgers defeated the Twins 4-3 in twelve innings. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMay 16, 2014

Let's acknowledge that $130 million is nothing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Knowing the spending habits of really rich people, they probably spend that much on monocles every year. 

Even so, the latest word from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com is that the Dodgers are in no hurry to give in to star shortstop and free-agent-to-be Hanley Ramirez. Apparently, he's looked at the contracts of Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million) and Shin-Soo Choo ($130 million) and concluded he deserves an extension worth "in excess of" $130 million.

The Dodgers aren't biting. Heyman notes that there's a "significant gap" between Ramirez's supposed asking price and what the Dodgers are willing to pay him. Naturally, the signs point toward them being wary of Ramirez's likelihood of living up to such a contract.

As well they should be.

May 3, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (13) looks on from the dugout during the second inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

There's nothing wrong with Ramirez's track record. In parts of 10 MLB seasons, he's a .300/.372/.503 hitter with an .875 OPS. 

That comes out to an OPS+—a version of OPS adjusted for leagues and parks and put on a scale where 100 is average, making it a useful one for comparing players from different eras—of 131. 

That puts Ramirez in elite company. Only three shortstops in history (minimum 75 percent of games played at short and 3,000 plate appearances) have done better than a 131 OPS+ through the age of 30.

But then, that's also one of the issues. The age of 30 is scary, as it tends to be the door to a player's decline years. 

The track record of great-hitting shortstops through their age-30 seasons does a solid job of driving the point home:

Great-Hitting Shortstops Through and After 30
PlayerThrough-30 OPS+31-34 OPS+35-and-Up OPS+Played To
Ernie Banks13810810440
Arky Vaughan13812511036
Nomar Garciaparra1321018535
Cal Ripken126969740
Lou Boudreau12693N/A34
Vern Stephens12395N/A34
Derek Jeter12012010540
Barry Larkin1151419740
Alan Trammell1151059438
Robin Yount1141289737
Jim Fregosi11410711636
Joe Cronin11413013238
Joe Sewell11395N/A34
Carlos Guillen1121127135
Miguel Tejada1101149439
Luke Appling11010811943
Average12011110237
Baseball-Reference.com

Note: Arky Vaughan didn't play from ages 32 to 34 and played sparingly at 35 and 36. For all intents and purposes, his career was done at age 31.

Apologies for so many numbers, but I've made things easier by highlighting the guys who aged pretty well. They account for only about half the list, and not among them are any of the six names at the top.

This is what you usually get when you use history to gauge the likelihood of a player aging well in his 30s. History almost always says, "I don't know, man" and suggests to proceed cautiously. Consider this one justification for the Dodgers' apparent unwillingness to meet Ramirez's demands.

Beyond that, hey, it's not like he's helping his own cause these days.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 18:  Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at bat during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium on April 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

In 2013, Ramirez was one of the best hitters in baseball. Despite playing in only 86 games, he slashed .345/.402/.638 with 20 home runs. Awesome stuff, that.

But Ramirez is having trouble with the encore. Through 41 games, he's slashing just .252/.331/.440. Less awesome stuff, that.

It's also hard to ignore how Ramirez's 2014 numbers look oddly reminiscent of the numbers he put up from 2010 to 2012 when he seemed past his glory days:

Hanley Ramirez's Production, 2011-2014
YearPABAOBPSLGOPSOPS+
2010619.300.378.475.853126
2011385.243.333.379.71295
2012667.257.322.437.759105
2013336.345.402.6381.040189
2014178.252.331.440.772116
Baseball-Reference.com

Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the league between 2007 and 2009, batting .325 with a .947 OPS and 145 OPS+. He returned to being that kind of nightmare for pitchers in 2013, but has otherwise been a lesser hitter in four of the last five seasons. Especially so in three of the last four, of course.

And it's not just the results that deserve some skepticism.

For example, there's Ramirez's ground-ball rates in the last five seasons (via FanGraphs):

  • 2010: 51.0
  • 2011: 50.9
  • 2012: 47.3
  • 2013: 40.6
  • 2014: 48.4

Ramirez didn't have a ground-ball rate higher than 45.8 percent as he was racking up that .325 batting average between 2007 and 2009. He then developed a bad ground-ball habit between 2010 and 2012, got away from it in 2013 but is now back at it in 2014.

That's not good. It's hard to make ground balls go for hits. It's very hard to make them go for extra-base hits. Any guy who has a tendency to hit a lot of ground balls is a guy of whom teams should be wary. 

Then there's how, according to FanGraphs, the two highest swinging-strike rates of Ramirez's career have come in the last two seasons. Not so coincidentally, there's also been a sizable uptick in the percentage of pitches he's chased outside of the zone. 

From here, we can also note that Ramirez hasn't been the sturdiest player recently.

He's played in over 100 games just once since 2011, notably battling back, shoulder, thumb and hamstring injuries. Heyman has the right of it in noting that the Dodgers shouldn't forget this, as "there isn't a big history of players receiving $100 million deals after missing as many games as [Ramirez] has since 2011."

Then there's Ramirez's defense.

According to FanGraphs, both the Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating metrics view him as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league in 2014. Which, unfortunately for Ramirez, is consistent with his defensive track record before 2013.

Also, for those making like Heyman did and pondering a future move to third base, it's noteworthy that Ramirez didn't handle his duty there very well in 2012. In fact, the metrics viewed him as one of the worst defenders in the league at the hot corner.

None of this is to suggest that the Dodgers shouldn't extend Ramirez at any cost. He's a player they should definitely have on their extension radar, and it should be noted that there's no need to tell Ned Colletti that.

"He's still somebody we'd love to have back," the Dodgers general manager recently told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. 

The Dodgers do, however, have the right idea in balking at Ramirez's supposed asking price. They can afford it, and it frankly wouldn't be the worst disaster in history if Ramirez were to sign for that much and then go bust, but the Dodgers are short on assurances that he could live up to a deal like that. 

If the Dodgers can talk Ramirez down to a more reasonable figure, great. If not, it might be best to prepare to thank him for his services and let somebody else take a $130 million plunge on him.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

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