While it may seem unlikely that the Florida Marlins would trade their brightest star and the player generally regarded as the face of their franchise, there have been whispers about a potential move that could return embattled shortstop Hanley Ramirez to the Boston Red Sox, the team that originally signed him as an amateur free agent.
Once considered Boston's shortstop of the future, Ramirez was traded to the Marlins in November 2005 in a blockbuster deal that also included Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia in exchange for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota.
At the time, the move was controversial among many Red Sox fans, as they were reluctant to part with the electric Ramirez in exchange for Beckett, Mota and Lowell, who was coming off a career-worst 2005 season, and was included as a salary dump for the cost-conscious Marlins.
Those doubters in Boston were right, as Hanley went on to become one of the game's most-thrilling stars, becoming a dynamic package of power and speed nearly unrivaled around the league.
However, the deal worked out for the Sox as well, as Lowell resurrected his career in Boston, and Beckett went on to become one of the top pitchers in the AL. Both players had huge seasons in 2007 and were integral to the Sox winning their second World Series in four years.
Fast forward to 2011. The Red Sox, despite spending massively in free agency over the offseason, have had an uneven season—struggling, dominating, then struggling again. It may seem ridiculous to consider the first-place team in the talent-laden AL East as struggling, but after the acquisitions of premium talents Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the Sox were expected to run away with the title from Opening Day.
A slew of injuries to key players—Crawford, Pedroia, Dice-K, Buchholz and Lester, among others—have kept the Sox from reaching the heights many feel they are capable of.
Currently, the Red Sox have two capable shortstops on the big league roster, but Jed Lowrie is injured, and Marco Scutaro was before that, causing regular instability at the critical position. Lowrie had been holding down the position solidly, hitting .270 with a .723 OPS. He is, however, on the DL with a bruised nerve in his shoulder and may not return before August.
Scutaro, the Opening Day shortstop, has also struggled with injury this season and is currently hitting .259 with a .691 OPS.
The shortstop situation is generally considered only temporary until Boston's No. 2 prospect (according to Baseball America), 21-year-old Cuban defector Jose Iglesias, is ready for Major League action. He received a brief call-up in May, but only started one game and is once again in Pawtucket working on his offensive game. Iglesias is considered a wizard with the leather, but so far, his bat is lagging severely behind his glove, as he is only hitting .227 with a meager .519 OPS.
So is there a chance the Red Sox could be interested in the return of their one-time prodigy? It depends a lot upon what they think of the development of Iglesias and how far he is from the majors. Hanley is also in the midst of the worst start to a season in his career
This doesn't depend solely on the wishes of Boston either. The Marlins are due to move into a new stadium next season and are perhaps highly-reluctant to trade the highest-profile player on their team ahead of that transition.
Hanley Ramirez has had issues in Florida though, as run-ins with coaches and teammates have tarnished his reputation in past seasons. Though extremely talented, the 27-year-old star has worn out his welcome in some eyes, and a change of scenery could potentially benefit all parties involved.
Let's take a look at some of the various aspects involved in a potential deal to bring Hanley Ramirez back to Boston and see if it even stands as a realistic possibility.
That's likely the biggest potential stumbling block that could kill any potential deal before it even got off the ground.
Though Florida had an awful June that saw them plummet from second place to last and 14 games out of first, they ended the first-half on a high-note, winning five consecutive games before the break.
Ramirez, a career .307 hitter who owns a .381 on-base percentage and an .889 OPS over seven seasons, is struggling with a .242 average and a .706 OPS. He has yet to display the form that has seen him named to the NL All-Star team three years straight prior to this season.
Teams have witnessed the Marlins' struggles and may expect them to conduct a fire-sale as they have been notorious for in the past. A temperamental star with three years and $46 million left on his contract after this year might seem like an ideal target for a team capable of taking on the salary.
However, the Marlins are well aware that Ramirez's struggles this season have caused his value to drop to the lowest level of his career.
I would fully expect Florida to hold onto their talisman in hopes that he can regain his top form and lead them to great heights over the coming seasons. It would benefit them two-fold, as his trade value would again increase significantly, and if they determined that his cost is too great for them, they could then cash in on him with another potential deal in the future.
As the Marlins prepare to vacate Sun Life Stadium, a football field masquerading as a baseball park, the prospect of moving into a new, state-of-the-art home in Miami's "Little Havana" district has the organization looking toward the future with a hopeful eye.
This is an immensely-welcome development in the eyes of Marlins' fans, as Sun Life Stadium has never been an optimal venue for hosting baseball games.
The organization surely welcomes the boost that a new stadium always brings, as the franchise currently resides dead last amongst all MLB teams in terms of attendance. Averaging just 17,101 fans per home game, the Marlins are on par with the average attendance of Major League Soccer games in 2011. While that number is great for a MLS franchise, it is woeful for the much larger industry of MLB.
After ranking last in attendance for three of the last five seasons, it has become increasingly clear that fans are unwilling to leave the comfort of their homes to cheer on the Marlins. The excitement of a brand new stadium always invigorates the fanbase and can generate tremendous increases in attendance figures, which the franchise is counting on heavily.
However, the thrill of a new stadium isn't enough to placate long-suffering fans. They crave a winning ballclub, and while the Marlins have a strong base around which to build, dynamic star players still bring out the crowds.
The Marlins have one such player, and his name is Hanley Ramirez.
Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison, two powerful, young future stars, may eventually blossom and fulfill their immense potential, but neither are the well-rounded marquee star Hanley is capable of being.
Moving into a new stadium and hoping to lift themselves out of the lower rungs of baseball's attendance rankings, the Marlins will need all the star power they have to generate an aura of excitement and hope in their new surroundings in Miami.
If the Marlins were to trade Hanley to Boston or elsewhere, they may receive a fantastic haul of young prospects, but they may have trouble convincing their fans that they plan on contending in the near future.
The struggles of Hanley Ramirez in 2011 have been no secret in baseball circles.
A three-time All-Star over the last three seasons, the career .308 hitter is batting only .252, and after posting an OPS in excess of .940 each year from 2007-2009, his OPS slipped to .853 in 2010 and all the way to .738 in 2011.
His powerful bat has been slumbering over the first few months of 2011, as he is only slugging .394, a significant dip for a player with a .509 career mark.
Hanley is heating up recently though, as he has been on fire throughout the month of July. After struggling badly through June 30, hitting only .221 with a meager OPS of .635, Ramirez is enjoying a scorching July, hitting .392 with a hefty 1.198 OPS.
That's certainly a welcome development for the Marlins, who suffered through an abysmal June in which they won only five of the 28 games they played during the month. Lately, they have won nine of 12, thanks in part to the incredible contributions of their star shortstop.
Can you imagine his potent bat in the Boston lineup?
While he's consistently penciled into the third or fourth slot in the Florida lineup, he might not even crack the top five in Boston. Hanley would likely find himself in the sixth slot behind David Ortiz and could even potentially find himself lower once Carl Crawford returns from the DL.
While many might call it overkill, the prospect of a batting order including Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford has to tantalize Boston brass, while striking fear into the hearts of their opponents.
The presence of several established veterans in Boston could also go a long way toward helping remove pressure from Hanley's shoulders, allowing him to simply play and once-again unleash his mighty talents.
With a culture of winning now existing around Fenway, he may also find it within himself to overcome the criticisms that have plagued him during his years as a Marlin.
It may be a long-shot, but Hanley Ramirez in a Red Sox uniform could potentially be a devastating blow to their American League competition.
While the Red Sox have lately shown a willingness to spend big, as evidenced by their offseason acquisitions of both Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, everyone (even the Yankees) has their limit.
During the offseason, the Sox signed Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal and traded for Gonzalez, who then signed a seven-year, $154 million extension for 2012-2018.
Not only did they get those huge contracts, but they signed Josh Beckett to a four-year, $68 million extension last season, John Lackey is making $15.25 million a season for the next four years and Dice-K is scheduled to make $10 million next season.
Boston has expensive deals for Jon Papelbon, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz expiring after this season, which could potentially offer some salary relief, but they'll then have holes in right field, designated hitter and the closer role if they let those players walk.
Hanley Ramirez is making $11 million this season, but that number grows to $15, $15.5 and $16 million over the next three seasons. Even for the Red Sox, who are currently third in MLB with a $163 million payroll, that is a significant amount to take on, especially considering their recent spending.
He would surely add significant offense to their shortstop position, but it would likely hamper their financial flexibility over the next several seasons.
With Marco Scutaro back at short, Jed Lowrie working his way back from injury and Jose Iglesias striving to improve his bat, would such an expensive move be worth it to Boston?
Although Hanley Ramirez would undoubtedly add significant pop to the Boston lineup, they already have a highly-touted prospect at short whom they expect to assume the big league position sometime in the near future.
Cuban defector Jose Iglesias was signed by the Sox as an international free agent in 2009, and they lured him to their organization with a four-year, $8.25 million dollar deal, plus a $6 million signing bonus.
Though he has yet to hit much above A-ball, he is touted as a wizard with the glove, and prior to 2011, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 52 prospect in baseball.
At Triple-A Pawtucket, Iglesias is hitting only .227 with a paltry .519 OPS, so Ramirez clearly holds an advantage offensively, but it seems doubtful the Red Sox would want to block a top prospect whom they paid $14.25 million to sign.
He has yet to impress with the bat, but at only 21 years old, Iglesias likely has more time to polish his overall game before the Red Sox are willing to give up on him.
It may seem like the wishful fantasies of the Fenway Faithful, but it has long been speculated that Hanley Ramirez's long-term future lies at a position other than shortstop.
He has never been a premium defensive shortstop, and if you place your stock in UZR, he's finished even lower than the much-maligned Derek Jeter in four of the last five seasons.
That future is generally assumed to be somewhere else in the infield (like third), but nonetheless, it is a question to be asked.
If a possible trade were to be discussed, it could be a way for Boston to improve themselves short-term while avoiding blocking their expensive Cuban shortstop prospect over the long term. Hanley could play short for the remainder of 2011 and however long it would take for Iglesias to become Major League-ready. Hanley could then complete an incredibly talented outfield with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Hanley is certainly athletic enough to play right field and as a shortstop, possesses the strong arm required of the position. The problem is, Ramirez has not played a single inning in the outfield as a professional and is not likely inclined to make the switch in the middle of his prime.
This is merely speculation though, but maybe he would. It's possible that the prospect of playing with a club that is primed to be a championship contender year after year could impact the player's state of mind.
Like I said, it's merely speculation at this point, but it's a point to consider if such a move were to ever become possible.
While the triumphant return of the once-discarded prodigal son makes for a compelling story, I find it to be more fanciful than rooted in reality.
Sure, the Red Sox could make it happen with many attractive prospects to tempt the Marlins into moving their marquee attraction. They could also likely find a way to afford the expensive Ramirez, but it seems they might want to allocate those funds elsewhere to a position of greater need.
Just because the Red Sox could make it happen doesn't mean the Marlins would be interested. With the impending stadium transition, the Marlins are likely to retain their most-recognizable commodity to give their fans the impression that they intend to challenge within their division during the coming years.
They have a reputation for frugality, but under the current circumstances, the franchise can likely expect to receive a financial boost from excitement over their new home. Florida shouldn't be forced into the cost-cutting maneuvers of prior years at this point. It's possible that they may even have money to spend in the near future.
Red Sox fans may continue to entertain such notions, and the thoughts of Hanley Ramirez in a Boston uniform are certainly tantalizing, but it would seem to me that he will stay in Florida for the time being.
However, you can be sure that the Sox will continue to monitor Jose Iglesias' development, and if it doesn't match their lofty expectations, they may keep Florida GM Michael Hill's number handy just in case.