As a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, shortstop Hanley Ramirez has enjoyed a resurgence. Seemingly the victim of a rapid decline as a member of an underachieving and expensive Miami Marlins team, Ramirez’ stock could not have been lower when Ned Colletti acquired him, along with Randy Choate, for pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. At the time of the deal, Ramirez had slashed .246/.322/.428 for the Marlins in 2012, nowhere near the numbers he put up as he made three consecutive All-Star teams.
After the trade, things changed for Ramirez. While he still was not the feared hitter he had been at the peak of his powers, he improved significantly over the second half of 2012, posting a slash line of .271/.324/.450 to go with 10 home runs and 44 RBI in just 64 games as a Dodger. Despite being plagued by injuries in 2013, Ramirez was even better, slashing a ridiculous .345/.402/.638 and hitting 20 home runs in just 86 games. He was so good that he even garnered enough MVP votes to finish in the top-10 of balloting despite not even qualifying for the batting title. Teammate Adrian Gonzalez put Ramirez’ value in focus with regard to the Dodgers' playoff loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, saying:
"If Hanley had been healthy all the way, it definitely would have changed everything. That's one of the big keys to us losing the series."
Last season, Ramirez was without a doubt the most important offensive player on the Dodgers roster. When he was healthy, the team won. When he was not, they lost. This was true during the regular season and during the postseason. Since Ramirez will be a free agent at the end of this season, it begs the question: How much is Ramirez worth to the Dodgers?
Stan Kasten is on record as saying that the team feels comfortable with paying players through their age-36 season. Any contract negotiations for Ramirez, who is heading into his age-30 season, will likely begin at a length of six years. If the Dodgers extended an average annual value of $20 million, that would put Ramirez in the company of Troy Tulowitzki’s contract, which will pay the Colorado Rockies shortstop $20 million per year from 2015 to 2020 (including the incentives in the 2020 contract year). A contract of that length and size seems appropriate for a shortstop capable of Ramirez’s 2013 production, but what if Ramirez in incapable of producing at that level (as he was in 2011 and 2012), or if he is incapable of staying healthy?
The Dodgers may be asking themselves these questions, and it may very well be the case that they want to see Ramirez play out the 2014 season to ensure he can continue to produce at an elite level. It also remains a possibility that they simply want to see consistent production over the first half of the season before signing Ramirez to a lucrative extension. This is a bit of a gamble for the Dodgers, because Ramirez could then test a thin shortstop free-agent market where he would presumably be offered even more.
It is clear that Ramirez was incredibly valuable to the Dodgers in 2013, even in limited time. It seems like it could be a costly mistake to allow a healthy and productive Ramirez to walk at the end of 2014 given how important he was to the Dodgers’ success last season. For his part, Ramirez wants to remain with the Dodgers, and in recent comments he indicated as much, saying:
"I want to be a Dodger for life.”
Though the Dodgers added some infield depth at shortstop this week, the team should make it a point to lock Ramirez up for the foreseeable future before the team departs for an Australian Opening Day.
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