While you were sleeping, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted that the Cleveland Indians and free agent Hanley Ramirez had come to terms on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
The move, which had not been announced by the Indians at the time of this story, was still pending a physical and details of the financials of the deal were unknown.
Ramirez marks another low risk, buy-low signing by the Indians, who will get a chance to see if there is anything left in the 35-year-old tank of the one-time National League Rookie of the Year. Cleveland’s offense took a substantial hit over the winter, as the Indians lost free agent outfielders Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera, and Lonnie Chisenhall, and traded away key contributors in Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes, and Yonder Alonso among others while doing little else to improve that side of the ball club.
Ramirez had spent the last four seasons in Boston with the Red Sox after signing a giant four-year, $88 million deal early in the 2014 offseason. Initially slotted in as a left fielder with Boston, he eventually moved to third base and later first base for the Red Sox and had several productive years offensively, capped by a 28-double, 30-homer, 111-RBI season in 2016 when he slashed .286/.361/.505.
That productivity dropped in 2017 (.242/.320/.429 with 24 doubles, 23 homers, and 62 RBI) and he was cut loose early in the 2018 season after a .254/.313/.395 start with seven doubles, six homers, and 29 RBI over his first 44 games. At the time, Ramirez was still owed roughly $15 million on the final guaranteed year of his contract, but the Red Sox were trying to avoid a vesting option kicking in for another $22 million for 2019 if he reached 497 plate appearances. He was let go with 195 trips to the plate in 2018, but he was on pace to eclipse that mark had he remained on the roster.
Following his formal release on May 30, his name popped back up in the news under an even more negative light, but one that proved to be errant and improperly shined upon him. Ramirez was falsely reported to be under investigation on multiple fronts for participating in a large drug ring, but the real story was that a suspect in an arrest for 435 grams of fentanyl and a “large amount of crack cocaine” name dropped Ramirez, whom he had grown up with in the Dominican Republic, in an attempt “to get the cops off of his back”, according to the Boston Globe.
As it turned out, the only crime committed by Ramirez was his play in left field in 2015, when he posted a -19 defensive runs saved and the worst bWAR (-1.3) of his 14-year career.
Ramirez entered the pro game with the Red Sox in 2000 when he signed as an amateur free agent. After striking out in both plate appearances in his debut year in 2005, he was traded to the Florida Marlins in a blockbuster trade that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. A strong full season the next year with the Marlins earned him the NL’s Rookie of the Year award, when he hit 46 doubles, 11 triples, and 17 homers, knocked in 59 runs, and swiped 51 bases while hitting .292. He hit .332 the next season and fell one homer short of a 30-30 season after stealing another 51 bases. He led the Majors in runs scored in 2008 in his first of three straight NL All-Star appearances and he achieved the 30-30 mark with 33 homers and 35 bases stolen, taking home his first Silver Slugger Award. The following year, he was the Silver Slugger again while leading the NL with a .342 average and toppling the 100-RBI mark for the first time.
He was limited to just 92 games in a tough 2011 season and played 93 more the following year for Miami before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played well down the stretch that season and even better in 2013 (.345/.402/.638 line with 25 doubles, 20 homers, and 57 RBI in 86 games), but he lost time to a torn thumb ligament to start the year (suffered during the World Baseball Classic), a hamstring injury just three games after returning from surgery, and two fractured ribs during the National League Championship Series. The next year was again shortened by injury, but following the season, the Red Sox still wrote a big check in his name.
Prior to his release-shortened 2018, Ramirez had averaged 128 games a season for the Red Sox, hitting .261/.328/.457 in that stretch while averaging 21 doubles, 24 homers, and 75 RBI.
Ramirez, for the first time since 2012-13, played winter league ball in his native Dominican this offseason. In 18 games for the Tigres del Licey in Santo Domingo, he hit .266 with a .360 OBP and a .469 slugging mark with four doubles, three homers, and ten RBI.
The fit for a player like Ramirez on the Tribe’s roster is an interesting one. At this stage of his career, he would likely be a DH/first base candidate at best (especially after the failed experiment with him in the outfield), but that is much more dependent on what he could bring to the team from an offensive standpoint. The Indians already have Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers occupying those two spots, but the team could look to pair Ramirez with Bauers in a platoon type of role or utilize Santana or Bauers in a corner outfield spot, something that has already been discussed in the early days of spring training. While the left-handed hitting Bauers has struggled against left-handers during his brief Major League career (.176/.276/.319), that was an area that the right-handed hitting Ramirez excelled last year in a small sample size, as he hit .333 with a .378 on-base percentage and a .476 slugging mark with three doubles, a homer, and ten RBI in 45 plate appearances against southpaws. He hit just .230 with a .293 OBP and a .370 slugging with four doubles, five homers, and 19 RBI in 150 plate appearances against right-handers. Ramirez’s career splits have far less of a divide, but still reflect similar tendencies better against lefties than righties.
Ramirez will make his case for a spot on the Tribe’s 2019 roster during his upcoming four-week audition from Arizona.
Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images