Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers get: SS/3B Hanley Ramirez, RP Randy Choate

Miami Marlins get: SP Nathan Eovaldi, SP Steve McGough

When the worst news of a trade is that there will be less at-bats available for Adam Kennedy and Juan Uribe, any deal can be considered a win.

In a remarkable, Mitch Kupchak-esque pact, both in scope and in secrecy, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Miami Marlins' franchise player Hanley Ramirez, along with left-handed reliever Randy Choate, for two young pitchers. Ramirez had been rumored on the trading block for weeks, though few thought that the Miami front office would actually ship out the former shortstop whose prolific power bat and speed made him one of the finest players in baseball. However, if indeed the Marlins decided that Hanley, who had made the switch to third base this year because of Jose Reyes' signing, were to be traded, only a bounty of potential major league prospects would be enough to consummate the deal.

So then, how did the Dodgers acquire Ramirez for a ceiling number 3 starter and a minor league pitcher that isn't even in LA's top 20 prospects?
The story is still being developed, but early thoughts have to do with money and performance. Hanley is in the middle of a 6-year, $70 million dollar deal. He'll be paid $14 million this season, along with a combined $31 million for the next two years. The reports are that the Dodgers will be paying this in full, which leads me to think that perhaps other teams weren't willing to take on around $37 million dollars of salary.

Of course, that type of money wouldn't be so much of an issue if Hanley were performing at the peak of his powers. Ramirez has continued a slump that's lasted a little over two years. After cratering during an injury-ridden 2011 season in which he batted a mere .243 in 92 games with a .712 OPS, the Dominican infielder is hitting at a similar clip this year, stroking a .246 bat to a .750 OPS. His statistics over the last three years now have fallen from a crest of a .953 OPS, 24 homers, 106 RBI and 27 stolen bases in 2009 during his age 26 season. In many ways, this type of dip in performance is particularly worrisome when a player of his talents should be hitting his prime, rather than a mid-career lull.

Even with those glaring numbers, a couple statistically inferior seasons from a potential MVP that's been injured and asked to move to third shouldn't be enough to move him for anything less than a king's ransom. The last factor in this trade trade thus has to be attitude. The Marlins were losing this year despite a high payroll, the adrenaline and energy of a new stadium, a great, but demanding manager and a bunch of vaunted free agent acquisitions. Instead, the team sputtered in the very competitive NL East, falling to last place in a division they were expected to at least fight for ownership of. The locker room chemistry had to be shaken up, and so within a week, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Randy Choate and Hanley Ramirez were all traded for pitching prospects.

In return for Ramirez, the Marlins obtained two young pitchers...who most people haven't heard of. Let's get this out of the way: I don't know who Scott McGough is. He's not in the Dodgers top 20 prospects, nor have his minor league numbers been particularly inspiring. I'm not entirely sure how or why he was picked by the Marlins, but he certainly isn't anyone of consequence in a trade.

As I mentioned, Nathan Eovaldi is a 22-year old right hander who most scouts project as a middle to back rotation guy. In 16 career starts, Nate has proved to be steady, but unspectacular. He's not a high strikeout burner, and has thus far not been able to keep men off the bases. His most impressive skill as far as I've seen is his ability to keep the Dodgers in the game, but other than that hasn't shown the propensity to dominate. Again, he's only 22 years old, but if he turned out to be anything other than a reliable innings eater, I'd be shocked. That type of designation certainly isn't anything to scoff at, but a projected "innings eater" certainly isn't what I ever thought Hanley Ramirez would be dealt for.

Which leads me to Ramirez himself. If Hanley is focused and playing hard, he's one of the top five players in the National League. He's got an incredible power bat, not just for a shortstop, having averaged 21 homers over his seven years in south Florida. Before 2011, Ramirez flashed a .906 OPS in five seasons at the cavernous Dolphins Stadium with an average lineup surrounding him. His speed has somewhat diminished as he progresses in age, as he's no longer the 50 steal threat he was half a decade ago, but with 14 bags this season, he'd create three on-base running threats on the Dodgers roster.

Much like Kevin Youkilis in Chicago, Ramirez is definitely in the "needs a change of scenery" category. Coming off a litany of injuries, Hanley was unhappy when he felt the team replaced him with Jose Reyes, and asked that he move to third base. He's grumbled under the pressure from new skipper Ozzie Guillen, and has seemed to be pressing in an attempt to return to his All-Star form. However, it's not like he's completely fallen off the map; yes, his on-base percentage is low, but he's still has 34 extra base hits this year, including 14 homers. It's not like this guy has taken an Andruw Jones-type tumble off the cliff. Ramirez has been surrounded by great hitters in Miami, yes, but more than likely it was an environment that needed changing.

Time to sit down buddy
Hanley should be batting fifth every single night for the Dodgers. Don Mattingly has been stuck with a craptacular corp of five hitters this year, with James Loney, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Juan Uribe, Adam Kennedy, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera giving a combined 17 home runs worth of protection for Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. While he's not the transformative bat that say, Prince Fielder would have been, if he returns to something resembling his 2010 form, it's not a far off facsimile. The Dodgers' offense has been much better after the All-Star break, but the team certainly needed another bat to formulate the type of lineup that could be depended on for four or five runs a night, rather than hoping for that same type of production.

So the key question here is: will Hanley be reinvigorated by the change? I'm leaning towards "yes". He'll be in a clubhouse with a little more order than a still settling Ozzie Guillen-helmed room, with calm, supportive voices like Davy Lopes and Mattingly around him. For a time, he'll be playing shortstop (until Dee Gordon gets back from a hand injury), and he'll be in the thick of a pennant race that the Marlins haven't participated in since Ramirez came up to the majors. His work ethic has been questioned, but hopefully a career-changing move will serve as a wake-up call for a player whose is now almost 20 months removed from being an all-world player. Out of all the aspects of this trade, I'm actually most worried about how this will affect the Dodgers defensively. Hanley has never been a great fielder, and combined with a returning Gordon who leads the majors in errors, LA could have a fantastically terrible left side of the infield.

Obviously by trading Eovaldi, the Dodgers believe that either Chad Billingsley's recent DL stint was a minor consideration, and that Ted Lilly will be able to return, or another trade for a starter is in the works. The Dodgers don't really have any more major league-ready arms in the system, so subtracting a starter like Eovaldi has to presume that another guy is there to take his place.

On a smaller note about the trade, the Dodgers also received left-hander Randy Choate. At 35, the reliever is almost strictly a lefty on lefty specialist. However, with a 2.19 ERA and almost a strikeout per inning, he's an extremely valuable piece to add to one of the best 'pens in the game. Scott Elbert has done a fine job as the Dodgers primary left-handed reliever, but having another guy who is in the middle of a career-best season can't hurt. He'll be a big contributor down the stretch with only 27 innings under his belt.

A lot of people are going to criticize the Marlins for such a lopsided trade, but in their defense, the team certainly had to pause when looking at another $40 million dollars for a player who wasn't performing on a big money deal, despite his vast potential to be the best player in the league. Miami needed a shake-up, although I'm not sure trading one of their best players was the solution. For the Dodgers, this trade has little risk, seeing as how new team president and owner Stan Kasten has repeatedly stated that the team didn't want to trade prospects for big league players, but rather was willing to take on big money deals that other teams wanted to dump. Trading Eovaldi is risky, especially in the light of Lilly and Chad's injury, but for a guy in Ramirez that has the potential of being one of the league's top five players, the Dodgers pulled off a coup.

2 comments:

  1. I don't care how poorly he's doing this year, I'm happy he's out of the NL east.

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  2. Horrible trade by the Marlins, but I suppose they had to contact the usual suspects when it came to taking on contracts and couldn't get anything more. Right?

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