The Cleveland Indians put an end to recent rumors when the club announced on Tuesday afternoon it had come to terms on a five-year contract extension with utility man Jose Ramirez.
The 24-year-old switch-hitting infielder by trade is coming off of a breakout season in 2016, the first season in his four-year Major League career that he has remained on the Indians roster for the course of the whole season without a lengthy stay at the minor league level. The Cleveland front office capitalized on the opportunity to add another player to the long list of Indians locked up on long-term deals.
Ramirez came to spring training last year looking to win a job on the club as a utility man with his primary middle infield positions already well occupied by Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor. Instead of just finding a bench role as a sub, his bat took off in the spring and never slowed down, forcing manager Terry Francona to find any and every way possible to keep Ramirez in the lineup. He helped fill the left field void created by the early season loss of Michael Brantley and later transitioned back into the infield at third base, taking over for veteran Juan Uribe, whose bat had failed to produce at the level hoped when the Indians signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract in the spring.
Ramirez would play in 152 of the Indians’ 162 games on the year while slashing .312/.363/.462 with 46 doubles, three triples, eleven homers, and 76 RBI. He also stole 22 bases in 29 attempts.
The home-grown Ramirez, who was signed by the club in 2009 and debuted at the end of the 2013 season, found his name near the top of the American League leaderboard in several statistics. His doubles production was second in the league to Boston’s power-hitting David Ortiz and a club record for a switch-hitter. He was the third-toughest player to strike out in the AL, averaging 9.1 at bats per strikeout.
His versatility, not only in the field, but on the lineup card gave Francona a name to plug into any hole in the lineup while feeling confident in the decision. Ramirez made starts at all nine spots in the batting order last season and appeared an unlikely middle of the order hitter given his physical stature and previous offensive production, but instead he thrived in the role. He hit .417 in three games out of the cleanup spot, .323 in 79 games in the fifth spot, .303 in 38 games hitting sixth, and .462 in five games while batting seventh. He put together an 18-game hitting streak during the season and was as consistent as can be at the plate, putting up a .312/.361/.457 slash hitting left-handed and a .311/.368/.473 line hitting right-handed.
He was one of the more productive bats on the club in terms of driving in runs. He hit .355 with 62 RBI when batting with runners in scoring position. When the situation changed to two outs with runners in scoring position, he hit .366. He had a .400 average with the bases loaded with 17 RBI in 19 plate appearances.
The extension covers the 2017 through 2021 seasons and also includes club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. It buys out all three of his arbitration years as well as the first year that he could have reached free agency. The contract figures, first reported by The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes three days ago, are as follows: $571,400 (2017), $2,428,600 (2018), $3.75 million (2019), $6.25 million (2020), and $9.0 million (2021).
His contract also include a $2 million signing bonus and team options for $11 million (2022) and $13 million (2023) with a buyout of $2 million if the club opts against Ramirez prior to either year. The full value of the deal could reach $50 million if various contract escalators are hit that would increase the option years by $1 million each.
The Indians, who have made it a continued business practice to lock up young players on team- and player-friendly deals while buying out arbitration years and early free agency possibilities, now have nine players who were signed to long-term deals (including Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Josh Tomlin, and Brandon Guyer) and 20 players on the roster inked through at least the 2018 season.
While the team has not directly confirmed conversations, other contract discussions may be going on, especially if you are to believe the on-air comments made by the son of Indians general manager Mike Chernoff.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images
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