Try as he might, Hanley Ramirez couldn’t avoid the disabled list in his walk-year. The Dodgers placed the impending free agent shortstop on the DL on Sunday with an oblique strain that the team has described as minor. Nonetheless, the move renders Ramirez unavailable for a minimum of two weeks in the home stretch of a pennant race, which is bad for the Dodgers, who will attempt to replace him with a team of defensive specialists led by rookie Miguel Rojas. It's also bad for Ramirez, whose inability to stay on the field could significantly impact his value on the free agent market this winter.
Injuries have become a dispiriting constant in Ramirez’s career. In 2010, a sore left elbow effectively ended his season two weeks early. In 2011, he hit the disabled list for the first time in his career with lower back inflammation in June, then had his season end in early August after an injury to his left shoulder sustained on a dive in the field required surgery. Ramirez played in 157 games in 2012, during which he was traded from the Marlins to the Dodgers, but his performance suggested that his shoulder was not yet back to full strength. That same year, he managed to cut his right hand by punching an electric fan in the dugout, requiring stitches, then missed three games when the wound became infected because he didn’t take his prescribed antibiotics.
Last year, Ramirez had arguably his finest season at the plate, but it didn’t really get started until June, as a thumb injury sustained in the World Baseball Classic and a left hamstring strain suffered soon after his return limited him to just four games prior to June 4. Even after that point, he missed multiple starts due to more pain in his left hamstring, a shoulder injury sustained after diving into the stands, a nerve injury in his lower back, and, in the playoffs, a broken rib after being hit by a pitch.
That last one may have seemed like a fluke, but Ramirez has also missed starts due to being hit on the hand by a pitch twice this season, as well as due to inflammation in his right shoulder (the one he hurt diving into the stands last year), and a strained right calf. In total, he missed 15 starts due to injury even before suffering the oblique strain that finally sent him to the disabled list.
Even if he only misses the minimum 15 days due to his current injury and plays every game after returning, Ramirez will have played in just 131 games this season, giving him an average of 122 games played per year over the last five seasons. That’s from a poor fielding shortstop who will be 31 in December. Ramirez will still enter the offseason as arguably the top free agent bat on the market, but concerns are mounting about his ability to deliver a level of performance commensurate to the sort of contract he seems likely to land.
Now all too familiar with Ramirez’s struggles to stay on the field, the Dodgers, baseball’s reigning big spender, seem increasingly unlikely to make a competitive offer to their fragile star, hoping instead that his departure will bring them a compensation draft pick via a qualifying offer that could further impact Ramirez’s market value. The Dodgers will want to find room in their infield for Alex Guerrero, currently hitting .331/.372/.594 in Triple-A, next year. Guerrero may not be a regular shortstop, but he, Dee Gordon, and Juan Uribe have all played the position in the past, and Rojas and Erisbel Arruebarrena are on hand as defensive caddies. Ramirez will also have to contend with what is a fairly deep market for shortstops, with J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew, and Jed Lowrie also due to become free agents this fall.
Monday night will mark the 31st time in 120 games this season that L.A. has had to start someone other than Ramirez at shortstop, five of which saw Ramirez start at designated hitter. In the 25 games thus far in which the Dodgers haven’t had Ramirez in the lineup at all, they have gone 14-11 (.560), which is as close to their .563 winning percentage on the season as you can get in a 25-game sample.
Some of that success may be luck, but a lot of it is due to the quality of Rojas' fielding, which is universally beloved by the advance stats. On a per-game basis, the 25-year-old Rojas, despite a dismal .222/.274/.283 batting line, has been roughly two-thirds as valuable as Ramirez this season on the strength of his glove alone if the advanced metrics are to be believed. Given that, the Dodgers won’t miss Ramirez in the coming weeks quite as much as you might think.
The more significant injury for L.A. remains Josh Beckett’s. The Dodgers' most recent attempt to paper over Beckett’s rotation spot is journeyman righty Kevin Correia, who was acquired from the Twins for a player to be named later on Saturday and will make his Dodgers debut in a start against the Braves and Julio Teheran on Monday night. Correia went 5-13 with a 4.94 ERA (79 ERA+) in 23 starts for the Twins while striking out a career low, but not uncharacteristic, 4.2 men per nine innings, the lowest figure for any qualified pitcher this season. With other members of the rotation experiencing fatigue, the Dodgers plan to go with a six-man rotation for the time being. That means half of their games will be started by Dan Haren, the newly acquired Roberto Hernandez, and Correia.
That would be a major concern if not for the fact that the second-place Giants have gone 5-12 since July 24, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in San Francisco early in that stretch and losses in each of their last four games. Despite all of the injuries the Dodgers have suffered this month — with pitchers Paul Maholm, Paco Rodriguez, and Chris Perez joining Beckett and Ramirez on the disabled list — their lead in the National League West has increased by three games in the last week.