Imagining Hanley in pinstripes

ST Game Thread: Banuelos on the bump (again)
Open Thread: Grandy's 50-50 for Opening Day

In four years Derek Jeter‘s last big contract with the Yankees will expire and the Yankees will have to move on. As weird as it will be, life after Jeter will begin, at least at the shortstop position. With all due respect to Cito Culver and Eduardo Nunez, it is likely that Jeter’s eventual replacement is not within the organization as of today. He will either join via the amateur draft, trade or free agency. Fortuitously, the best offensive shortstop in baseball will hit the free agent market the very year Jeter’s contract expires. After spending nearly a decade with the Florida Marlins, Hanley Ramirez will become a free agent as a 30-year-old. Will he find himself fitted for pinstripes?

The Good

While Troy Tulowitzki is quickly creeping up on him, it’s hard to argue with the statement that Hanley Ramirez is the best offensive shortstop in the game. After being traded from Boston to Florida in the Josh Beckett deal, Hanley Ramirez won Rookie of the Year in 2006. As a mere 22-year-old Hanley clubbed 17 home runs and swiped 51 bases and hitting .292/.353/.480. In 2007 he elevated his game even further. He stole 51 bases again but cut down on his strikeouts and hit an incredible 29 home runs. His batting line was an MVP-worthy .332/.386/.562. The Red Sox won the World Series that year, but there had to be an element of regret within the organization to see how rapidly Hanley was becoming a superstar.

In 2008 Ramirez posted an aesthetically pleasing batting line of .301/.400/.540, a step back in power but a step forward in on-base percentage. The following year he again accumulated over 7 fWAR and placed second in MVP voting. His on-base percentage was only 10 points higher than 2008, and his slugging percentage was only three points higher, but he won the batting title with a .342 average. Hanley’s always been a high BABIP guy (.347 career average) but his .379 mark in 2009 was a new high for him.

In 2010 his game took a step back. He only hit 22 home runs, a low for him since 2006, and his on-base and power skills dipped slightly as well. This was probably related to his ground ball rate. He’s a career 44% ground ball hitter, but hit ground balls at a 51% clip in 2010; this increase came largely at the expense of fly balls. Whether this was a momentary blip or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. It is worth noting that Ramirez battled and elbow injury for a lot of the season.

Regardless of the 2010 blip, Hanley Ramirez has been the model of offensive production in the past four years. Cumulatively, it’s nearly impossible to find a more productive shortstop over the past four years. He hit 107 home runs, most of any shortstop. He’s stolen 145 bases, second to only Jose Reyes. His ISOp is .213, tied for highest with Troy Tulowitzki. He has the highest batting average (.319), on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.532) and wOBA (.400). In the past four years, he’s had the the highest wOBA for a shortstop in three out of the past four years. At some point, the superlatives become repetitive. Hanley Ramirez can hit. He can really, really hit.

The Bad

One of the biggest knock on Hanley is his defense. He’s a big guy, and doesn’t really grade out positively by any defensive metric. Over at Fangraphs just six weeks ago Joe Pawlikowski wrote up different players who saw their fWAR knocked down by the defensive component. Ramirez featured prominently:

Defense was the major knock on Ramirez from the moment he started in the majors. In his first two years in the league he had UZRs of -9.3 and -20.5. He followed that up with two mostly average years, which provided some hope that he could remain at shortstop while hitting like a right fielder. Both ideas came crashing down in 2010.

Not only was Hanley’s 25.4 RAA his worst mark since his rookie campaign, but his UZR was in the negative double digits. The combination caused quite a dip in his WAR.

Saving Grace: TZL isn’t nearly as down on Hanley, pegging him at -5 for the year and 8.8 — in the positives! — for his career. DRS, on the other hand, mostly agrees with UZR, except it’s a bit more pessimistic.

All told, it’s hard to find anyone who would argue that Hanley is a plus defender. His single-season UZR is going to fluctuate year-to-year, just like a BABIP is going to fluctuate in the first third of a season, but scouting and most defensive metrics agree that his fielding is subpar. As he ages and loses some of his quickness, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move off the position. Some expect him to wind up at third base; right field could be another destination.

The element of downside risk with Hanley is the perceived attitude issue. A lot of this stems from the blowup he had with his manager Fredi Gonzalez on May 18. After fouling a ball off his shin in the first inning, Hanley took the field in the second inning. With runners on first and second, Tony Abreu blooped a ball over his head into shallow left field. Ramirez couldn’t get to it, and when reaching down to field it with his glove he accidentally kicked it with his left foot, sending the ball 100 feet away into the left field corner. He then slowly jogged after it, allowing two players to score and Abreu to advance all the way to third base. Now, Ramirez did seem to have a slight limp and it is possible that his shin pain was severe. Regardless, he moved rather slowly after the ball. The video is a bit shocking. It’s rare to see a player pursue a ball like that. It’s as if the play was already dead. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was angry, and pulled Hanley out of the game. Hanley sat out the next game, and openly criticized Gonzalez:

“It’s his team. He can do whatever,” Ramirez said, mixing in an expletive. “There’s nothing I can do about it.” “That’s OK. He doesn’t understand that. He never played in the big leagues,” he said.

Unfortunately Gonzalez didn’t survive the year, getting fired in the end of June. He moved on to greener pastures in Atlanta, but the perception that ownership sided with the superstar rather than the manager lingers. The fact that Loria had given Ramirez a diamond-studded necklace to celebrate his batting title championship a year prior doesn’t exactly help to dispel that myth. Yet, the most important question is whether this will be something that promises to cause trouble in the future. For what it’s worth, Hanley has been talking a big game this spring, saying that he was very disappointed in his 2010 production and promising a whole new level of effort. His 2010 issues could just be a blip in the radar; the proof will be in the pudding.

The Money

By the end of the 2014 season the Yankees will get some serious salary relief. After the 2011 season Jorge Posada‘s $13M will come off the books. After 2012 Rivera’s salary ($15M) comes off the books, although it’s possible that he could re-up on another 1 year deal for the same salary. AJ Burnett’s $82.5M contract expires after 2013 as well. After 2014, Derek Jeter’s contact expires.

As of present, the Yankees have about $69M committed to the 2015 payroll. Of course, this doesn’t include a potential deal for Nick Swisher or his right field replacement (free agent after 2012), Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson (free agents after 2013) or the various holes in the pitching rotation. The Yankees will be shelling out some serious coin well before Cashman ever sits down at the negotiating table with Hanley and his agent Andy Mota. They’ll also have a very big hole at shortstop.

As a 30-year-old, Ramirez will likely be seeking one very big, very long contract. Provided he continues his prodigious offensive production and stays at shortstop, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him seek a deal for at least 8 years. Even if he’s moved off shortstop to third base, his offensive production would still put him among the elite third basemen in the league. All told, there’s a lot that can happen between now and the 2014-15 offseason. Loria could open up the purse strings and make Hanley a Miami Marlin for life, or the Yankees could draft a viable replacement for Jeter at shortstop. The Yankees have handed out their fair share of big contracts in the past. Whether they’ll be able to resist the siren’s call again with Hanley will be a fascinating situation to monitor.

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ST Game Thread: Banuelos on the bump (again)
Open Thread: Grandy's 50-50 for Opening Day
  • CMP

    I’ll pass.
    If the guy couldn’t play decent defense at short from age 22-30, who the hell would want him from age 30-36/37?
    He’ll probably need to play 3B or outfield for most if not all of his next contract.

    • Andy in Sunny Daytona

      Perfect replacement for ARod at 3rd then

      • Tom Zig

        Yeah we can keep him at SS for half the deal, and then later switch him to 3rd.

        • theyankeewarrior

          This times one million

    • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

      you like jeter, right?
      Defense is great, but great offense tends to negate it.

      • BVMaestro

        The “Great” Yankee teams were always built on solid defense up the middle. Whether it was Tony Lazzeri and Mark Koenig, Crosetti and Gordon, Rizzuto and STirnweiss et al, or Kubek and Richardson. The Centerfielders were gazelles: Combs, DiMaggio, Mantle. Behind the plate were Dickey, Robinson, Berra, Howard, Munson. And they could hit.

  • karl

    Posada and Rivera’s FA years are wrong, actually end 1 year earlier.

  • Tom Zig

    I’d love to see Hanley in pinstripes. Not really going on a limb to say it’ll probably take 8 years/200million.

    I’d rather have Tulo, but he just signed a 10 year deal, he ain’t going anywhere.

    • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

      8/200? I don’t see it. Maybe between now and then he goes on a Wagnerian tear, but 8/160 is better.

      • Mike Myers

        It wouldnt shock me to see him get 200. Tex got 180 at 1b. Hanley is playing SS and will get a contract 5 years after Tex. Lets see what Pujols gets…..

        • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

          Teixeira got a 180 million dollar contract from the Yankees. And he was 28. If Hanley get 200 mil, he will have to have been great – and he’ll only get it from the Yankees.

          • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

            Yeah I see what youre saying. The opposing argument is that it’ll be over a half decade later, so salaries will be inflated, and that Hanley plays a premium position (however poorly).

            • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

              Indeed.
              Someone’ll screw us all and get the mother of all albatrosses between now and then. My guess? He’ll be a player for the Red Sox.

          • mike c

            don’t underestimate boston, they haven’t had a good SS in a long time and I’m sure would be first in line for this guy… they might even try to make a trade to one-up the yankees if they really were serious

      • Urban

        If he maintains production and is a SS, no way he “only” gets a contract averaging $20 million per year, especially considering it be four years from now.

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

      Yeah I mentioned that on Twitter. I didn’t want to get into actual contract terms in the post, but 8/200 is my best guess. Even that may be conservative though. What will salaries look like in 4 years? Will he get $30M AAV?

      • CMP

        The guy had 4.4 WAR last year and you think he’ll get 8/$200?

        He better get back to being a 7+ WAR per year player otherwise factoring in some regression as he ages, that contract is gonna be an albatross.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/iiKeane JobaWockeeZ

      Rather have Tulo? Dude lives in his ballpark. He’s good on the road but not 20 something million good.

    • chuck

      It’s funny how yanks fans feel the need to propose scenarios where they can sign any teams best player (I don’t how many possible felix hernandez trades have been proposed). Maybe yanks ownership should stop shelling out huge contracts, so they can draft guys and develop another Jeter, posada or pettite.

      • http://drawingwalks.wordpress.com/ Raphe

        Kinda like Cano, Hughes, Jesus, and the other pitchers in the pipeline?

  • RobC

    Why have another good hitting poor fielding SS?
    I’d love to see him on the Yanks but a different position.

    Why do players leave the dugout after they come out of the game?

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

      You mean how Hanley gathered his stuff and left the dugout after Fredi pulled him? Since he wasn’t coming back in the game he probably went to go take a shower and hang out in the clubhouse.

    • FIPster Doofus

      Why not have another good-hitting, poor-fielding SS? Ramirez is a stud at the plate, and those are all too rare at his position.

      • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S.

        This. Otherwise we’d probably wind up with a poor-hitting, poor-defensive SS.

    • pat

      Almost all MLB players leave ST games once they’re pulled. They go back to the clubhouse and get extra work in.

  • mike c

    change we can believe in

  • toad

    I don’t think the Yankees will get “serious salary relief” after 2014. It’s easy to look at the players they have now who will come off the payroll, but there will be additions as well. The team’s not going to be a blank slate going into 2015.

    Interesting as all this is, it’s wildly speculative. Who knows what happens in four years, to the Yankees or Ramirez. We don’t know what happens to salaries either. Maybe they go up more, on an annual basis. But I bet contract lengths don’t. They might even drop. Too many teams getting burned. It’s time to realize that a 7-8 year contract is really more expensive, on annual basis, than a four-year deal with the same average pay. That’s because the longer the term the older the player gets, and the greater the chance of injury or serious decline.

  • Jimmy

    I live in FL and watch Hanley play regularly, he’s talented but also a headcase. Stay away

  • Tucker

    I can’t imagine a guy as good as Hanley, with a team like the Marlins, not getting traded. Whether that’s to the Yankees or not is a different question.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Thinking we won’t have to replace Jeter at SS until 4 years from now is not very realistic. A 40 year old SS for the Yankees? Not even Jeter will pull that off.

  • http://rab Rob

    Is there anyone on here that really would want to see Jeter being our shortstop for the next 4 years as this suggests?? I imagine the range he would show at ages 37-40, makes me cringe!!

  • http://tparis111@aol.com TOM PARISELLA

    Yankees should bring in Nunez for shortstop when Jeter goes

  • AnjaKJ

    Firstly, I don’t see Jeter being the Yankees shortstop in two years, let alone at the end of his current contract. Even as someone who loves The Captain, a move to 3B/OF is inevitable. (I say 3B because I could see Alex being made the everyday DH in a couple of years, to keep him as healthy as possible through the rest of his contract.)

    Secondly, HanRam has a well-documented bad attitude, I don’t think that will be the kind of energy Cashman will want to bring back into the Yankees clubhouse.

    I hope the Yankees concentrate on this area of need in the draft, and find a player that they can develop into what they need. I don’t see HanRam as the answer – his defence stinks, for a start.