|Marlins star Hanley Ramirez has exceeded the expectations of those who scouted him early. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)|
On balance, Ramirez deal was worth it
Nearly four years later, if you had it to do over again, would you?
“I knew the guy could fly and that he could hit,’’ Dan Duquette said of Hanley Ramirez, the Florida Marlins phenom signed by the Red Sox in 2000 (during Duquette’s reign as general manager) and later traded in the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. “I didn’t know he would play shortstop.’’
At the time of the trade, November 2005, the Red Sox really did not know it, either, particularly amid the organizational turmoil brought about by the dispute between Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino. Maybe Ramirez was a shortstop. Maybe he was a center fielder. But wherever he landed on the diamond, there was little doubt that he possessed unique talents, a combination of abilities that today make him perhaps the most dynamic all-around offensive player in baseball.
Since the start of the 2006 campaign that marked his award-winning rookie season, Ramirez - who visits Fenway Park this week for the second time in his career (he had one at-bat with the Sox in 2005) - is the only player in baseball to rank in the top 10 in the major leagues in runs (first), hits (fifth), extra-base hits (fifth), and steals (sixth). He also has made a whopping 78 errors, more than any player (at any position) in the game.
Hanley is up there with Albert, Ichiro, and Mariano as the game’s most identifiable stars known almost exclusively on a first-name basis. And he is just 25 (albeit in Dominican years), having just begun a six-year, $70 million contract that pays him an average salary ($11.7 million) only slightly more than what the Red Sox are paying Julio Lugo ($9 million).
All things considered, Ramirez may be the single most valuable commodity in the game, a young and supremely gifted player who is extremely affordable even in a time of economic crisis, particularly in the first three years of his contract ($23.5 million).
That is what the Red Sox had to give up to get Beckett and Lowell, the latter of whom initially was forced upon the Sox but has turned out to be among the most productive third basemen in the game. And though the Red Sox sent three minor leaguers to Florida in the deal - including righthander Anibal Sanchez - the trade essentially has amounted to Ramirez for Beckett and Lowell, a sterling example of the play-now-and-pay-later philosophy that drives so many of the deals in sports today.
The Red Sox got exactly what they wanted from this deal. The Marlins did, too. Two years from now, if Beckett and Lowell are elsewhere - both are under team control through only 2010 while Ramirez is signed through 2014 - there may be cause to reevaluate the deal. But by then, too, the Marlins may have traded away Ramirez, perhaps back to Boston, unloading the $46.5 million he is due in the final three years of his deal.
After all, Theo never wanted to trade Ramirez in the first place (trust me on this one), but he had left the team when the deal was pulled off under the watch of Lucchino, baseball lifer Bill Lajoie, and current Red Sox director of international scouting Craig Shipley.
Ramirez believes he would still be with the Red Sox had Epstein not taken his hiatus.
The Sox have made inquiries with the Marlins in recent years about the prospect of reacquiring Ramirez. A deal easily can be argued from both sides - that’s what made the trade so compelling in the first place - and Epstein always has operated with the bigger picture in mind, making it clear he would waste no time trading one title for multiple championships down the line.
On this one, everyone can be right and everyone can be wrong.
“We gave up some things, but I think the Red Sox have benefited greatly from Beckett and Mike Lowell,’’ Lajoie said in May 2007, before the Sox went on to win the World Series for the second time in four seasons. “The thought was right. It just happened a year later than sooner.
“It was myself and Craig Shipley who were the proponents of that trade, who wanted to go for it. There were some last-second attempts to stop the trade, but we decided to go through with it.’’
Lajoie didn’t specify who was behind those “last-second attempts,’’ but the Red Sox obviously were fractured at the time, divided into schools of old and new. Epstein, despite his sabbatical, was speaking with some officials regularly to offer his thoughts on the deal, and owner John Henry was among those who stated publicly that his preference was to sign A.J. Burnett rather than trade for Beckett. Had that happened, there is no telling where Beckett might have ended up - what if he surfaced with the Yankees? - and how he and Lowell might have affected pennant races in 2006 and beyond.
In recent Red Sox history, there has been no single decision that served as an organizational crossroads quite like the Ramirez deal. It is the ultimate “what if’’ scenario.
There is no doubt the deal has worked out quite well for the Sox. As of yesterday, only the Angels and Yankees (316 each) had won more games than the Red Sox (315) since the start of the 2006 season. Lowell has knocked in more runs in that time than any major league third basemen but Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, and Aramis Ramirez, and that is despite the fact that the second half of his 2008 season was effectively wiped out. Beckett has won more games (55) than any major league pitchers but Roy Halladay (62), Johan Santana (58), and Brandon Webb (56), and he was instrumental in carrying the Sox to the 2007 world title.
And though Epstein might have been against acquiring Beckett and Lowell in the first place, he has signed both to new contracts through 2010.
As for Ramirez, even Duquette concedes there was no way to project what he would become when the Sox signed him nine years ago on the advice of scout Elvio Jimenez. At the time, the Sox had partnered with the Hiroshima Carp to run an academy in the Dominican Republic, and Jimenez thought Duquette should take a look at a young shortstop whom Jimenez had likened to Jose Offerman (yikes).
Duquette made the trip and immediately decided that Ramirez had more power than Offerman, and recognized that he (again, like Offerman) may not have the hands to play shortstop in the major leagues.
Years later, Duquette compares Ramirez’s skills at the time to those of Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield.
“He did show that he had a live bat like Vladimir Guerrero,’’ said Duquette. “He was tall like that, but a little better athlete than Guerrero. Every time he swung, he squared up the ball on his bat, but I didn’t know he would have this kind of power.
“Sheffield played shortstop in high school but he had a little thicker body than this kid and Sheffield had a little more power.’’
Today, Guerrero and Sheffield are potential Hall of Famers in the final stages of their major league careers.
In Ramirez’s case, he is really just beginning.