White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez has been the American League’s best shortstop through almost two months of the 2014 season.
That statement is fairly indisputable and is well supported by the numbers. He leads the league at the position in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, hits, runs, home runs and RBI. He is also third in on-base percentage and fourth in steals. Pair all of that with the slick defense he’s played and you’ve got yourself, like we said, the AL’s best.
And it’s getting close to that time of year when trade rumors are certain to swirl around the 32 year old Cuban. We will mention, however, that it’s far from a sure thing that the Sox will want to deal the “Cuban Missile.” There is no clear replacement waiting in the wings, and while 2014 is a transitional year for the club, they have been able to hover around .500.
If the team suddenly feels that Leury Garcia deserves a shot at being an everyday player, he could certainly handle the responsibilities of the position. But at this point in time, he’s viewed as the utility man of the future, while the infield is already sure to be crowded with prospects like Micah Johnson, Marcus Semien, Matt Davidson and Carlos Sanchez.
Davidson is a third baseman and while the others are all middle infielders, none of their best position is shortstop. It’s not to say that one wouldn’t be able to handle the role now or in the future, but again, there is just no clear-cut guy to take the reigns at this point in time.
So while several questions would have to be answered if/when Ramirez were dealt, his value on the current trade market is certainly a worthwhile talking point.
Even in a typical Alexei year of solid, above-average offensive output, he’d have at least solid value. The shortstop position is always fairly thin around the league even before injuries and slumps, sure to come with every season, roll around.
But this year, as he sets the bar for shortstops (because Troy Tulowitzki is just ridiculous and deserves to be in a discussion of his own), Ramirez’s trade value couldn’t be higher.
After free agent Stephen Drew resigned with the Boston Red Sox early Tuesday, the market has been cleared up a bit. With him out there, any team in need of help at the position could’ve pulled the trigger and ponied up the cash. That is no longer the case.
One more key factor to mention is that Alexei is signed through the 2015 season with a 2016 option at a reasonable price. He’s making $9.5M this year, will bring in $10M next year and can be retained in ’16 for another $10M ($1M buyout). So there’s potential for Ramirez to provide a long-term fix.
Here are some teams we could see being interested in Alexei’s services over the next couple of months.
On paper, the Reds are a rock-solid team. They’ve got a complete rotation and bullpen, dazzle defensively and can really slug. They haven’t hit their stride yet this season as they’ve constantly battled injuries. The only hole in their lineup is at the shortstop position where Zack Cozart is off to a very slow start, hitting .227/.266/.313.
Cozart has been decent replacement-level option over the last couple years, and because he could be described as the team’s worst hitter who does play good defense, he is an okay fit. But they appear to be a team that could really use a boost to help take them over the top, and Alexei could give them that boost.
They need to take advantage of having such a good roster top-to-bottom, and a big upgrade at shortstop may be the only move there is for them to make.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Halos are in somewhat of a similar situation to the Reds. They’ve got a lot of high-end talent and need to make a breakthrough and squeak into the postseason … for the first time since 2009 (crazy, I know).
At short, they have franchise mainstay Erick Aybar who, like Cozart in Cincy, is just fine. But Ramirez would be a big upgrade, as Aybar has hit just .260/.296/.387. If they were to acquire Alexei, Aybar could slide into a utility infielder role. As a switch hitter, he’s been much better from the left side (.280/.313/.424) than the right (.208/.250/.292). So by using his services more sparingly, he could become a much more valuable asset. And it could also help them cover up their deficiency at DH.
Third baseman David Freese has tormented lefties throughout his career and has really scuffled against right handers this year (but has been solid historically). Their current DH is Raul Ibanez, who is actually still pretty good against righties but can’t hit southpaws at all. So I think you see what I’m getting at …
With Alexei, the Angels could start Freese at DH, Aybar at 3B and Ramirez at short vs. LHP, and sit Aybar in favor of Ibanez vs. RHP.
I know all of that is a lot easier said than done … Aybar isn’t too proven at the hot corner, but he is trusted defensively and would only be there a couple times per week.
L.A. is off to a nice 26-20 start, and if they want to stop their postseason drought at four seasons, they may have to go out on a limb … and after all, it is a limb that seems to be pretty well supported by the numbers and splits.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are sitting atop the NL West after a dreadfully disappointing 2013 campaign. Once Brandon Belt returns from the 15-day DL to play first base, Mike Morse will move back to left field, leaving the middle infield as the only clear area of the team that could use improvement.
Alexei is a high-end middle infielder, so even if they were to move him to second … why not?
The M’s, off to a surprising 23-23 start, need to give Robinson Cano and that lineup all the help they can get. Brad Miller won the SS job after a phenomenal spring but has been anemic since then, hitting .156/.227/.255 while striking out a lot and hitting with very little pop.
He’s still just 24 and may have a very good career ahead of him. Nick Franklin, the 23 year old Miller won the job over, has only played a few games at SS this year but is also off to a slow start.
I’d say a move for Ramirez would be more likely for Seattle if those two weren’t so young, but they do need long-term support for Cano, and Alexei is a better bet for the next year or two than those two, even though their potential is undeniable.
New York Mets
The Mets are tied for last place in the NL East, sitting five games back of the Atlanta Braves. I don’t think one or two acquisitions will make them a playoff-caliber team, but they may still be interested in upgrading at shortstop as soon as possible.
They were heavily linked for months to Stephen Drew, and frankly I think Alexei is a much better option, especially considering the money Drew was demanding. Their current shortstop is Ruben Tejada, who is really just a space-filler, hitting .183/.299/.220. They do have 22 year old Wilmer Flores, but his ceiling isn’t too high and he may be a bit of a project playing shortstop.
Even though they aren’t a playoff team, the Mets want to please their fans and Alexei would certainly make them a better club right away while coming at a reasonable price.
Photo Credit: Brian Kersey, Getty Images