Jeff Conine, Hanley Ramirez, and effort


Over the weekend, Marlins fans heard about “Mr. Marlin” and special assistant Jeff Conine have some interesting words to say about Hanley Ramirez and what Niner would do if he were running the ball club on the Dan Le Batard show on 790 The Ticket.

"But Jeff Conine, a special assistant to Marlins president David Samson, raised some eyebrows earlier Friday afternoon with comments he made on The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket, the team’s flagship station. When asked if he would trade Ramirez, Conine said: “If it were up to me, probably.”Conine, a fan favorite and face of the franchise nicknamed Mr. Marlin, told The LeBatard Show he gets frustrated by Ramirez “on a nightly basis” and added “there are some nights where [Ramirez] doesn’t try as hard as he should.”"

Later on, he told the Palm Beach Post that he did not quite mean it that way.

"“It shouldn’t be a big deal at all,” he told The Palm Beach Post. “They asked me if I would trade him. I said, yeah, I would trade anybody if it was a good deal for the team,” said Conine, who played for the Marlins from 1993-97 and from 2003-05."

Yeah, well Niner backtracked on that statement, as it seems pretty clear that he did not exactly say what he said to the Palm Beach Post. Conine said that he would be willing to trade Ramirez. As he mentions, anybody would if the deal were right, but the question really is what kind of offer would be fair for a talent the likes of Ramirez. But of course, the initial comments on the radio show focused less on what kind of return would the Marlins get and really honed in on the problm that Conine has with Ramirez: he just does not try hard enough on the field.

Stop me if you’ve heard this argument before. Ramirez has been getting this sort of treatment now for years, and it has boiled up to enormous proportions this season thanks to his year-long struggles. Different people in the Marlins franchise have been concerned about Ramirez’s effort levels even as his game has excelled throughout the latter half of the decade. Dan Uggla questioned it. Fredi Gonzalez questioned it. Now Jeff Conine is questioning it as well. And throughout this time period, Ramirez has simply outperformed all of these guys and most other major leaguers while supposedly not trying “as hard as he should.”

Which brings us to the question: why does it matter how hard Ramirez tries if all he is doing is succeeding?

I know I have asked this question before, but I still do not understand this idea that a player who is performing well should be judged by his effort level moreso than his talent. Yes, Hanley Ramirez is struggling this season, which is why he is being vilified to an extent by Conine here. But if and when he does well (and he has been doing well recently), why do we question his hustle, effort, or “respect for the game?” Shouldn’t the ultimate thing that matters to Marlins fans and ownership be how well Ramirez plays, regardless of effort level? Hanley Ramirez at 85 percent of his effort level is still miles ahead of other players, including Jeff Conine at 100 percent of his effort.

Conine himself admitted this much:

"“I’m probably jealous, too, because I didn’t have that kind of talent,’ said Conine, known as Mr. Marlin after playing eight seasons for the team before retiring after the 2006 season.“I had to work extremely hard on a nightly basis to put my talent on the field. I think that there are some nights when he doesn’t work as hard as he should.”"

And to the idea that in some nights, Ramirez does not give it his all, I ask why he should if he is still performing well? By the time Ramirez finishes his contract, he will have been well worth the investment the Marlins put into him. According to FanGraphs’s Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and their dollar value conversion, Ramirez has produced $126.5 million in baseball free agent value to the Marlins from 2006 to 2010. The Marlins have paid him $13.7 million during this time period. For the last five years, they have gotten their money’s worth and then some, and yet parties have still complained about Ramirez’s lack of effort.

This season, I can understand the complaints. He is underperforming and entering a time when he will be most handsomely rewarded for his services; the Marlins will pay Ramirez $46.5 million over the next three seasons. If effort has something to do with his struggles, they are right to call him out on it, even if it is private. But what Conine fails to see is that effort alone is not worth a move so drastic as to trade Ramirez. Effort alone is only part of the equation that determines Ramirez’s value. Much of the rest of it comes to talent, and Ramirez has that in oodles. I can understand if this were a fringe player, but this is perhaps one of the five best players in baseball right now, and Conine is talking about him as if he has run out of chances to impress the ball club. It is ludicrous to think that Conine would attempt to make a trade just because he cannot stand to see Ramirez lag a bit on the field; the decision would have to be based on performance.

This is what scares a lot of Marlins fans about our front office. Yes, they have done an excellent job for the most part in stocking a franchise (supposedly) bereft of money and keeping it competitive. At the same time, it does not seem like the franchise uses much in the way of advanced statistical analysis, and this perception is only magnified when you see a player like Conine, who I’m certain has a wealth of baseball experience but not a wealth of player-personnel evaluation experience, don the proverbial GM hat. It makes us concerned to see moves that may be bad because they are made based on such ridiculous premises as players not hustling and thus needing to be moved despite strong performance. Time will tell if Ramirez’s first half is a sign of things to come or simply an extended mirage, but one thing I know is that effort will play a significantly smaller role when compared to talent if and when the Marlins decide to move Ramirez or allow him to leave.