Can the Tribe afford to trade Jose Ramirez?
The Cleveland Indians gave Jose Ramirez a shot in 2013, long before Francisco Lindor was ready to make his debut. Ramirez excelled in that brief debut, with four hits (including a triple) and a pair of walks in 15 plate appearances.
When he returned for his encore performance in 2014, he did nearly as well. That year, he had 266 plate appearances, and he hit .262/.300/.346 – swiping ten bases and leading the league with 13 sacrifice hits. Those aren’t bad numbers for a utility man who is generally considered to be more glove than bat.
In 2015, however, Ramirez struggled so much that he was sent down to Triple-A to make some adjustments. In that first half, he batted just .176/.243/.235, despite stealing eight bases. His defense seemed to falter as he got more and more distracted by his issues at the plate.
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When he returned, he appeared to be back to normal. He batted .259/.337/.438 and seemed to steadily improve throughout the final two months of the season, ending things on a high note.
The problem for Jose Ramirez is that his brief absence resulted in the arrival of the long-heralded Lindor, who not only claimed the everyday shortstop job, but played so well that he became a Rookie of the Year finalist. There’s absolutely no chance for Ramirez to regain his role as the Tribe’s shortstop, and second base is equally locked up by Jason Kipnis. Giovanny Urshela is less secure at third base, but Indians are likely to stick with him over Ramirez because of the power he provides. And even with Michael Brantley due to miss some time, Ramirez is hardly an everyday outfielder.
That leaves two options. Ramirez can assume the role of Mike Aviles, as a bench player who can play anywhere but first base or catcher. The other option is to trade him.
Ramirez is a valuable commodity to the Indians. He’s a versatile fielder, and he’s very fast on the base paths. There aren’t a lot of players who can fill in nearly anywhere on the diamond in order to give everyday players a day off, as well as be counted on to pinch-run late in a game.
However, Ramirez hasn’t ever been a true bench player. In August, he played in 26 games and started 21 of them, and in September, he played in 24 games and started in 19. Both months, he had over 80 plate appearances. Those numbers aren’t much different from the 18 games he played in April or 24 games in May, of which he started all but one. The Tribe would be hard-pressed to find a day when they don’t want Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis both in the lineup, and it’s hard to fathom where Ramirez’s opportunities to play will come from, barring injuries or a terrible performance from Urshela.
Would the Indians be better served to trade him now, while he still has plenty of value and service time left? While Ramirez wouldn’t be worth much on the trade market, a team in search of a shortstop or utility man might be interested in him. It would have to be a low-budget team like the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland Athletics, who have prospects that are just a year or so away and aren’t interested in signing a long-term deal with a more established infielder – and it seems unlikely that either team has anyone the Tribe would be interested in trading for.
Although it’s hard to predict how Ramirez will hit next season in a more limited role, the Indians aren’t likely to get anything for him on the trade market that would outweigh his potential value to the team if he stays. Given their sudden lack of infield depth, taking a chance on Ramirez becoming a better bench player than he was an everyday player is probably the Tribe’s best option.