Buster Olney started a lot of discussion yesterday when mentioning the possibility of the Marlins trading Hanley Ramirez in light of his recent performance and his history of “clubhouse problems,” true or implied. It started when Olney suggested that there were people in the Marlins organization interested in trading him, and continued with the idea that Ramirez was not a leader in the clubhouse and that his future position would be in doubt.
Let me go ahead and say this flat out before the discussion continues:
The Marlins will not trade Hanley Ramirez this season or in this offseason.
To do so would require an act of desperation or stupidity from this staff, and that is something president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest simply would not allow. The front office has done its share of stupid things before, in particular the horrific Emilio Bonifacio – Josh Willingham swap that is now entirely dependent on Jake Smolinski panning out at all, but never could I imagine them doing something as stupid as trading Ramirez at this point. There are many obvious reasons as to why a deal at this point would be so ridiculous that even the cost-conscious Marlins would refuse to do such a thing.
The basics of trading players
Say what you will about the penny-pinching regime that the Marlins have run in the past, but the front office has always known how to pull off an appropriate trade. In every trade of a Marlins star, the Marlins have traded at something of a high point in that player’s career. The Fish dealt Miguel Cabrera after his third straight season with 5.0 or more (FanGraphs) Wins Above Replacement (fWAR); Baseball-Reference WAR (rWAR) points to Cabrera’s defense being more of a problem in 2007 than fWAR saw. The team’s 2005 fire sale saw the jettison of Josh Beckett coming off of his highest seasonal innings total of his career at the time along with his best fWAR (second best rWAR). The team also dealt Carlos Delgado after his best offensive season since 2000 and a season in which his WAR totals were only hurt by his tremendously bad defense. Derrek Lee was dealt after his 2003 season, which was the best of his career up until that point, though he had yet to fulfill his true potential. The only player of major importance to the Marlins since 2002 that the team dealt at his lowest point was Mike Lowell, who was traded after his worst career season and went on to have four solid seasons with the Boston Red Sox.
The point here is that the Marlins rarely make a deal knowing that they will get less than appropriate value for their player. The Fish were forced by monetary reasons to deal Lowell at his lowest, but outside of that the Marlins have traded their best players at their most valuable every time. It should be obvious that Ramirez is currently not even close to his maximum value and that making a deal involving him right now will likely receive half of the value he would be expected to receive. Ramirez is one of the few players in baseball who, before this season, could fetch a golden return in terms of top prospects and young, major league ready players. At this point, with such an atrocious start under his belt, there could be no way he could achieve that sort of return, even if it is likely that he significantly better than he is currently showing now.
The new stadium and fan expectations
Yes, the new stadium does matter to the Marlins ownership, even if the ownership is crooked as a whole. Jeffrey Loria and company do want to see an improvement in attendance with the new stadium’s opening, even if their true intention is to leech more money out of the county and community. After all, attendance can only yield more money, and critics of Loria, David Samson, and the other parties involved in the Marlins’ ownership know that the dollar is the primary concern of the organization.
No matter how much some vocal Marlins fans seem to hateM. Ramirez for his supposed work ethic issues, they would be infinitely more upset to watch him play well for another team. The Marlins and their fans appreciate performance over a positive attitude every time; you can bet there would be no discussion of trading Ramirez if he were hitting .340/.410/.520 instead of .211/.304/.301. Ramirez is still viewed as the centerpiece of the franchise, and nothing would kill the desire to watch a team than trading a team’s centerpiece away for what would likely end up being scraps. Ultimately, it does not matter that Ramirez is a primadonna or doesn’t work hard, things about which we have no idea as fans. What fans ultimately want is good players for their teams, and a trade of Ramirez at this point would not likely yield this sort of value. And when fans aren’t happy, they aren’t watching, and as it has been shown for quite a while now, fans of the Marlins very easily display their disinterest in their team via attendance.
Yes, the Marlins have other “franchise players” right now. Yes, they could market the hell out of Mike Stanton, Josh Johnson, Logan Morrison, and Gaby Sanchez. But none of those players mean as much to the franchise as Ramirez, in my opinion. Ramirez plays a glamour position and, prior to this season, was a premier hitter. You cannot replace that, just like you cannot replace a Miguel Cabrera in the fans’ eyes. Cabrera, if you recall, had just as bad an attitude issue as Hanley, and his was far more visible in terms of his weight and conditioning. Fans weren’t happy about that, but they were more unhappy when he was dealt. Going into the new stadium with an unhappy fanbase cannot be a smart move.
Joe Pawlikowski mentioned at FanGraphs yesterday that it seemed inevitable that Ramirez would be dealt primarily because of the financial ramifications of his contract. Perhaps so, but the 2011 offseason and 2012 season was the least likely time for this to happen. The Marlins are expected to expand payroll to possibly $70M next season, which means the team can more than afford to maintain the right set of players and replace the other ones that do not fit into the equation. Yes, that may mean cutting marginal players heading into arbitration, but it also means allocating money properly to players who will be a part of the future of the organization, including Ramirez. He is set to make $15-16M per season in each of the next three seasons, which are the most expensive parts of the contract.
If Ramirez had shown a history of these problems from this season or were heading into his second-to-last or last season of this contract, it would be understandable. But without any prior history of the majority of these problems, and with the team heading into a situation which can afford them payroll expansion, it would be unlikely that the Marlins would choose now to make a deal. The team can still afford the contract for another season or two given the expanding payroll, meaning the financial reasons for the trade are not as strong as years ago.
There is one thing with which both the Marlins and any potential suitors need to concern themselves. Ramirez has bulked up a lot since he first arrived in the majors. Ramirez had picked up almost 40 pounds of muscle since he initially came up (he was at a relatively svelte 200 pounds when he arrived in 2006), and that may cause not only health issues but a possible problem with his position. He’s already been considered a poor shortstop in the past, thanks in part to that fluky awful 2007 season that almost had to include some semblance of bad luck. With an increased girth, he may no longer have the flexibility and athleticism to manage shortstop, and the Fish should consider a possible position change in the future for him.
This isn’t the time to discuss this issue. The Marlins are still in the midst of an epic slump, and Ramirez is also in a personal tailspin. He should be focused on improving whatever needs assistance in his game, not on his future in a Marlins uniform. For their part, the organization has expressed their desire to hold onto him, both through the contract and their words, so right now the best course of action would be to allow Ramirez to rebuild value and earn himself his superstar status once again. There may yet be a time to trade him, but in my view, it will not be until the end of next season.