The Marlins are 45-51, 11½ games back of the first place Washington Nationals in the NL East, and 7½ back of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card. They haven't explicitly called it quits for 2012 just yet, but one day after dealing Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers for prospects, Miami is reportedly fielding offers for starting third baseman Hanley Ramirez.
This isn't the kind of fire sale people expected from the Marlins. That one would have involved jettisoning all of the high-priced players acquired this past off-season, in order to avoid paying long-term for the publicity and hype that signing them in the first place generated. Sanchez represented an expiring contract that the Marlins were able to swap for future value, one who was borderline at best to receive a qualifying offer that would have resulted in a compensation draft pick were he to sign elsewhere. Sanchez is pretty good, not great, and the new compensation system is meant to address the draft picks that were handed out to teams losing that kind of player. Getting a top prospect back from someone who they were going to just outright lose after the season is a coup. Infante isn't an impact piece, either -- he's simply a capable infielder, one owed $4 million in 2013, that helped the Marlins bring back more for their future.
Hanley doesn't fit in the Anibal/Infante camp, nor is he similar to the recently acquired and expensive types from this past winter. Ramirez signed a six-year extension before the 2009 season, one that was set to pay him $70 million. The first real expensive season of the contract is 2012, with the final three years of the contract collectively worth $43.5 million, or nearly two-thirds of the total contract. He was here before the shiny new toys, and his contract is set to keep him here during their years, too.
The Marlins have had their issues with Hanley in the past, and are now gauging the interest of other clubs to see if they can once again bring in a haul that will benefit some future core, rather than this current, costly one that isn't getting them anywhere.
It's easy to just say that the Hanley of old is gone and never coming back. It might even be smart to just assume that, given the hefty price tag still attached to him. But there are reasons to believe that he's an excellent change of scenery candidate, and that's why multiple teams are reportedly interested in hearing what the Marlins would like for their third baseman. Ken Rosenthal and Bob Nightengale have both reported that it's the Athletics, Blue Jays, and Ramirez's former club, the Red Sox, who are looking into acquiring him.
Ramirez was one of the game's best from 2006 through 2010, hitting a combined .313/.385/.521 while netting a Jackie Robinson Award, two top-10 MVP finishes, two Silver Sluggers, and three All-Star appearances. He was even better than scouts believed he could be, and Ramirez was an impressive prospect who finished in Baseball America's top 40 every season from 2003 through 2006, topping out at #10.
Some --even within the game itself -- have felt that Ramirez exploded onto the big-league scene after seeing his prospect stock fall back a bit simply because he was now in the spotlight. No longer restricted to minor-league ballparks and the small crowds they draw, Ramirez could be the star that he knew he was capable of being. If that sounds silly, know that the Red Sox front office felt that Ramirez knew just how good he was, and the ego that came out of that is part of the reason he was disciplined on multiple occasions for his behavior while coming up through their system.
The much discussed makeup issues from the 2011 season and off-season are not a new thing with Hanley Ramirez. His failure to run hard after a ball that he booted got far more press than his behavior in the minors, but it's the kind of thing that had been warned against nearly a decade prior. His getting into it with both his manager and teammates about his dedication and work wasn't a huge surprise, either, given altercations he's had with team personnel before he was ever in the majors.
Consider this a tour through some of the concerns voiced about Hanley Ramirez through Baseball America during the early and middle parts of the aughts.
The Red Sox have some concerns that the hype has come far too fast for Ramirez, who was sent home early from instructional league for disciplinary reasons. He knows he's good, and can be immature and selfish. While he has lots of potential, he'll need to keep working hard to realize it.
He started slowly at low Class A Augusta, then was banished to extended spring training for 10 days in early May after he made an obscene gesture to fans in a game at South Georgia... He was sent home from instructional league in 2002 after he cursed at a trainer... He needs to let the game come to him instead of trying to do too much.
Ramirez matured and didn't have any behavioral problems in 2004. He's a hard worker, but his biggest need at this point is to improve his day-to-day preparation. When he's fully focused, he's usually the the best player on the diamond.
And finally, 2006:
Since reaching full-season ball in 2003, Ramirez has not had a breakout year to match his considerable tools... The missing ingredient for Ramirez may be a lack of focus and preparation.
There are a whole lot of common themes there that didn't go away over the course of five years and four books, and it isn't just because they all came from the same outlet. Ramirez posted a 720 OPS at Double-A Portland in 122 games in 2005, then exploded onto the big-league scene despite skipping Triple-A just a few months later while with another organization. Ramirez as a change of scenery candidate? Hell, he's already done that before.
That's the hope that the interested clubs are pinning a potential acquisition on. The hope that Ramirez, taken from an organization that knows his faults, knows his problems, and has challenged him on them, will feel rejuvenated once more, and return to being the player that his still considerable tools could allow him to be. It's a long shot, but the Marlins know firsthand that it's a plan that's worked, and worked for even longer than the length of his current contract. Get him on a club that's winning, where he can be an important piece and start new, and the remaining millions on his contract might not seem like such a big deal after all.
If those teams are wrong, they still end up with a shortstop who, for all the disappointment, has a 100 OPS+ this year, courtesy of a .246/.322/.430 line that still shows patience and pop. He's no Gold Glove candidate at short or even third base, but if his bat comes back, that won't matter much. If it doesn't, the thresholds for competence at short are low enough that he'd be more of a disappointment than albatross. Depending on how much the Marlins are asking for in exchange for what they seem to view as a problem, that's a risk that might be worth taking for some, even if it's not necessarily the smart thing to do.