Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is there a trade market for Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez will be entering his age 36 season.  He is owed $16 million in 2014.  His contract includes an option for 2015 at $15 million with a rather steep $4 million buyout.  A knee injury that plagued him all year caused him to miss 70 games.  Defensively he is below average.  These are all sound reasons why Ramirez will be a difficult player to trade.  Some might even say it’s impossible.  I’m not one of those people.
Ramirez missed a lot of time when he was injured, but when he was playing he still hit at a high level.  In 97 games he put up a triple slash line of 287/370/461 with 12 home runs which was good for a 132 wRC+.  That’s right in line with his previous two seasons suggesting he can still swing the bat.  Had he been able to produce that wRC+ over a full season it would have put him in the top 5 for offensive production at third base.  As far as the injury goes, he was able to play through it for most of the season.  I guess it depends how you look at it, but he wouldn’t have been allowed to play if it was too serious.  Getting his medicals cleared this winter should allay some injury fears.  With the offensive potential he offers, a team in the AL could see him as a solid option given they could put him at DH every once in a while to keep him fresh.
Arguably the largest obstacle to trading Ramirez will be his salary, but that can be offset.  He’ll be owed $16 million, but only $10 million needs to be paid in 2014.  The other $6 million is deferred to an unknown date.  With a little detective work, and admittedly a lot of assumptions, we can come to a likely conclusion.  Kyle Lohse and Ryan Braun’s contracts each include deferred salaries.  While total sums and years are different, each contract uses similar language.  Each deferred sum ($7 million for Lohse, $18 million for Braun) will be paid in equal amounts spread over a certain number of years (3 for Lohse and 10 for Braun).  Each designate that their deferred payments begin the year after their contracts are up.  In Braun’s case an option year is included at the end of his contract.  His deferred payments begin the year after the option year.  We can, therefore, assume Ramirez’s deferred payments will begin in 2016 (the year after his option year).  The number of years over which the payments are to be made is anyone’s guess, but if it’s like Lohse’s contract, it will be 3 years.  That means $2MM from 2016-2018.  If the Brewers agree to pay that deferred amount, it’ll go a long way towards making a trade a reality.  They haven’t shown a willingness to include money in deals before, but this might be more palatable to management.  It won’t stop them from doing anything this offseason.  In fact it’ll open up a lot of options considering they’d clear $10 million from the payroll.  Then, when it is time to pay up, it’ll be in small, manageable sums.
It’s also important to put Ramirez in context of this offseason.  That means evaluating other trade targets as well as free agent third basemen.  The free agent market is really awful for third basemen.  To put a point on it, Juan Uribe is inarguably the top third baseman free agent available.  Uribe is a good defender but his bat is suspect.  He fits on teams that don’t need offense or that have tight budgets.  He’s kind of the opposite of Ramirez.  Teams that would want Uribe may not be the same teams looking to acquire Ramirez.  That means less competition.
David Freese was recently traded to the Angels.  This is good for two reasons.  It takes a third basemen off the market meaning less competition.  It’s also good because the Angels would not have made a good trade partner since their farm system may be the only one that’s worse off than the Brewers’.  Chase Headley has oft been rumored to be on the block, but I think the Padres are a lot closer to competing than most people give them credit for.  They continue to say their goal is lock him up long-term and I believe them.  If that’s true then I don’t see another third baseman on the block that would be competition for Ramirez. 
I can think of four clubs that make logical trade partners for Ramirez.  The Dodgers have shown interest in Ramirez in the past and they might again.  They’ve stated that their first choice at third is to re-sign Uribe, but that might change if the Brewers dangle Ramirez.  They are certainly not going to balk at his salary this and they might not want to commit to three years to Uribe, which is what he wants.  They could cut ties with Ramirez after the season should they decide to go after Headley (if he’s available) or if they decide to move Hanley Ramirez to third base. 
One team that’s already made a huge splash on the trade market is the Tigers.  They sent Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler.  This allows them to move Miguel Cabrera to first, possibly leaving third base open.  They have an in-house option in Alex Castellanos, but they could have him play left field, which is one of their weak spots.  After two years of Cabrera at the hot corner, Aramis Ramirez would seem like a defensive wizard.  They also have the DH at their disposal.  Again, the money likely wouldn’t be a deterrent. 
The Red Sox may want an upgrade over Will Middlebrooks.  They lost out on free agent catcher Brian McCann and will be unlikely to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury.  They can make up for that offense by acquiring Ramirez.  They could start him and use Middlebrooks in reserve.  They can also use Ramirez at DH on occasion, though Ortiz will be there more often than not.  
Finally, and likely the most realistic, are the Yankees.  Alex Rodriguez is almost certainly getting suspended.  We won’t know until after the holidays for how long, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s for at least the entire 2014 season.  That frees up $25 million for them so Ramirez’s $10 million will seem paltry by comparison.  The Yankees are in win-now mode and Ramirez would be the best third baseman available.  If A-Rod returns for the 2015 season, they can decline Ramirez’s option, or use him at DH.
I think the biggest obstacle to trading Ramirez is lack of a clear alternative for the Brewers.  They’re probably going to try to compete next year, whether it’s a good idea or not.  Juan Francisco and Jeff Bianchi can both play third, but they both come with big question marks.  Juan Uribe is the only real option in free agency and the Dodgers will likely bring him back, unless they acquire Ramirez.  I won’t even entertain the idea of bringing Yuniesky Betancourt back…  It’s possible the Brewers could sweep in and steal Uribe by offering him a 3 year deal.  I’ll even go so far as to say they should, but it’s just so unlikely that the Brewers would do that.
It’s not impossible to move Ramirez, just difficult.  I think the interest will be there.  In reality, whether because of his salary, health, or unwillingness on the Brewers part, I think Ramirez will be playing for them next year.  They will have at least one more opportunity to explore a trade at the deadline mid-season.  If they do, they might find fewer suitors, but they should have an easier time moving his salary.  There’s also the added risk that Ramirez won’t be productive next year or injured at the deadline.  I don’t know what they could get for Ramirez, so I might be wrong, but I think it’s in their best interest to move him.  I'm sure they'll at least explore the market now and perhaps revisit it later.

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