As expected, the Seattle Mariners have been linked to free agent Hanley Ramirez. He’s a player the club has had some level of interest in for a few years, and understandably so, he hits. He’s also right-handed and plays shortstop, so on the surface he sounds like a fantastic fit for any team that doesn’t have a present-and-future stalwart at the position.
Not so fast. I’m not saying the club shouldn’t have interest and I’m not saying Ramirez doesn’t fit at all, but he’s simply not ideal.
Ramirez is well below average defensively and will be 31 years of age next month, suggesting he’s not getting better with the glove and most likely is on an overall decline that ends only when he changes position or retires. He’s expressed a willingness to move off shortstop, Jon Heyman reported last week, but for Seattle that only helps if he profiles in the outfield. Ramirez isn’t an outfielder and it’s a waste to move to him to first base since he’s still going to cost shortstop (or at least third base) money.
The Mariners do not have one of those clear-cut, proven, now-and-future shortstops, but Ramirez is not ideal for Seattle. If we assume some of the projections of Ramirez’s contract are correct, he’s a $15-17 million per year player for at least four years, all guaranteed. Kyle Seager is, hopefully, in Seattle for the long haul at third base, which means Ramirez can’t just slide over a few feet and handle the hot corner for the Mariners.
The M’s have given indications that they are willing to bump payroll again this year, but there are going to be limits to how high they will go for 2015. Handing Ramirez $15 million does three things, only one of them good. He improves the lineup, no doubt. But he makes the defense worse and he gobbles up valuable financial resources that can be used instead on players that are upgrades offensively, don’t downgrade the defense markedly and also do not block younger, capable players.
Brad Miller and/or Chris Taylor may very well be the answer at shortstop. At the very least they provide league average overall production, and there’s big upside with Miller’s bat. In 2014, the pair led the M’s to a 3.0 fWAR, No. 7 in the 15-team American League.
Adding Ramirez and therefore being unable to acquire at least one outfielder — because the financial resources don’t allow for it, for example — and blocking the capable youth at shortstop is not the best use of the club’s resources. If that kind of money is available, it’d be more ideal to give some or all of it to a player that plays a position for which the Mariners don’t have viable answer — such as the outfield and designated hitter.
Ask yourself: would you rather have Ramirez at shortstop and one average outfield or designated hitter upgrade or get an above-average outfielder, an average or better DH and use Miller-Taylor at shortstop?
Seems like a no-brainer.
Of course, beggars can’t be choosers, some will say, and that’s true. The M’s need offense and it’d be a disaster to fail miserably and acquire no significant help in that area. In the end, however, Ramirez is not headed in the right direction with the glove or the bat, and in a vacuum might not be a very good free agent signing for anyone.
Seattle is going to have interest in pretty much every right-handed hitter out there, free agent or trade, either league, no matter the contract situation. Making the most if their available funds always will be key to any sustained success, though, so unless they plan on attacking it all with bottomless pockets, the Mariners should not have Ramirez near the top of their wish list.
Jason A. Churchill
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