The news came across the wire just after 2:30 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday morning. The Dodgers have acquired Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins along with lefty reliever Randy Choate for rookie starter Nathan Eovaldi and minor league relief pitcher Scott McGough. For a four-player trade that involves two relievers, a mid-rotation prospect, and a .246 hitter, this is huge.
Perhaps most significantly, it signals the dissolution of the Miami Marlins team that created so much buzz this past winter. Yes, the Marlins had already traded Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers on Monday, but one could explain that by pointing to the standings (the Marlins are 12½ games out in the NL East, 8½ out of the Wild Card race, and seven games below .500) as well as the facts that Sanchez will be a free agent after this season and Infante is a complementary player. Ramirez, the 2009 batting champion and runner-up for National League Most Valuable Player, is a three-time All-Star, was the team's third-place hitter through mid-June and is signed through 2014. He was supposed to be part of that team's core, and now he's gone.
For all of their rebranding and relocating, the Miami Marlins have done the one thing their fan base is least likely to tolerate, which is to bring back memories of the fire sales that followed their World Series wins in 1997 and 2003. The Sanchez/Infante trade could have been seen as part of a short-term regrouping on Tuesday. On Wednesday, in light of the Ramirez trade, that is no longer possible.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who finished Tuesday night's action just 2½ games behind the Giants in the NL West and a half-game behind the Braves for the second NL Wild Card spot, appear to have acquired the perfect player to get them back into the playoff picture. It was no secret that the Dodgers needed another bat, and the left-side of the infield, where Ramirez plays, has been a particularly weak area for them, with their shortstops and third basemen combining to hit .240/.296/.345 this season. Ramirez can slot in at either short, his position prior to being pushed to third base by Jose Reyes this spring, or third and hit either in front of or behind the combination of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the only reliably and significantly productive hitters in the Dodgers' lineup.
That's how this trade was likely received by most who woke up to the news on Wednesday morning, but the reality of the deal could prove to be strikingly different. It just might be that the Dodgers, who are now on the hook for the entirety of the $36.5 million remaining on Ramirez's contract (a figure that includes a pro-rated $5 million for the remainder of this season), just bought a lemon.
Ramirez's reputation is built on his age-22 to -26 seasons, during which he hit .313/.385/.521 while averaging 25 home runs and 39 stolen bases per season as a shortstop. Last year, however, Ramirez hit a weak .243/.333/.379 with just 10 home runs and 20 steals. Ramirez's down season appeared to be largely the result of the back and shoulder injuries that plagued him throughout the year and ultimately ended his season in early August. His hot start in spring training was reassuring, but it quicky proved to be a lot of empty average, and though Ramirez has had some brief hot flashes, most significantly stretch of 13 games from late May into early June in which he hit .420/.464/.780 with four home runs, his 2012 batting line looks alarmingly like his line from a year ago.
Ramirez came to the plate 385 times in 2011 and hit .243/.333/.379. This year, he has come to the plate 395 times and hit .246/.322/.428. There's a bit more power there, but he's walking less often and striking out more often, posting his work strikeout-to-walk ratio since his rookie season of 2006, and the resulting drop in on-base percentage is undermining that increase in power. Using Gross Production average, which combines OBP and slugging like OPS but gives on-base percentage an appropriate added weight and adjusts the result to the scale of batting average, Ramirez was a .245 hitter last year, and is a .252 hitter this year; from 2006-10 he had a .304 GPA.
Ramirez has now hit .245/.328/.405 (.249 GPA) in 776 plate appearances over the last two seasons combined. That is not a $15-million-per-year player. That, plus his poor fielding (by the advanced stats, which are generally in agreement, he grades out as every bit as much of a liability in the field at third base as he was at shortstop), means he is not a player who is going to single-handedly put the Dodgers into the playoffs.
Even the diminished Ramirez will be an upgrade over the production Los Angeles has been getting from the left side of the infield (it's not yet known where he'll play for the Dodgers). There's also the "change of scenery" fantasy. The last imagines that getting away from manager Ozzie Guillen, with whom he butted heads, and from a team on which he was literally pushed aside by a new $106 million bauble named Jose Reyes, who has been no more valuable than Ramirez this season, could give Ramirez a fresh start that would rejuvenate his bat. That, however, is wishful thinking, not sound decision-making.
Of course, the Dodgers may not yet be done. They're still rumored to be in hot pursuit of another starting pitcher, be it Ryan Dempster or Matt Garza or someone else. One also wonders if the Marlins are done. Having rid themselves of Ramirez, clearing up $15.5 million for the 2013 season (plus the $4 million owed Infante) and that $40.5 million overall between Ramirez and Infante, they might also try to find takers for fragile 28-year-old ace Josh Johnson, who is owed $13.75 million for next season. If so, they'll have to find another team willing to commit eight figures for a player still trying to find his old form, as Johnson has an almost perfectly league-average ERA this season after adjusting for the Marlins new ballpark and didn't make it out of May last year due to inflammation in his pitching shoulder.
As for the other players involved in the trade:
• The 36-year-old Choate is a classic side-arming LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). Over the last four seasons, he has averaged roughly a half-inning per appearance, averaging 61 games and 33 innings a year. Over that stretch, lefties have hit .166/.221/.233 against him while righties have hit .307/.443/.471.
• Eovaldi is a 22-year-old righty with 16 major league starts under his belt and mid-rotation potential. He can get his fastball into the mid-90s, but thus far lacks the command and secondary stuff to translate that into strikeouts or the control to prevent walks from being a problem. In 91 major league innings, he has struck out 5.6 men per nine innings and posted a 1.42 K/BB ratio, 1.44 WHIP and 96 ERA+.
• McGough is actually four months older than Eovaldi despite not yet having pitched above High-A. Taken out of the University of Oregon in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, McGough, a righty reliever, is in his first full profession season at the age of 22 and has thus far stuck to the classic relief profile of a hard-throwing fastball/slider pitcher who gets plenty of strikeouts but walks too many men. Both pitchers could contribute to weaker Marlins teams, but none of the other men in this trade offers an irreplaceable skillset.
Miami's primary gain in this trade is salary relief. What remains to be seen is if the Dodgers get what they paid for.