Two years ago, news of a possible Hanley Ramirez trade would've been met with jubilation. That, or frustration over the constant almost taunting links between the Sox and the "one that got away."
This year, however, the trade rumors, if not concrete, are far more realistic and plausible than in years past. Unfortunately, it's no coincidence that this is also the year where it'd make the least sense.
Hanley Ramirez has spent much of his career as one of the best players in the majors. Earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 with a 116 OPS+ at an offensively bankrupt position, Ramirez reached even greater levels in 2007, spending the next three years as one of the top offensive producers in the game. Only six players were better with the bat, and none of them played a top defensive position like Ramirez--even if he didn't do it particularly well.
Unfortunately, that Hanley Ramirez hasn't been seen since 2009. 2010 was a bit of a slow year, which could easily be ignored were it not for .317 wOBA in 2011, which could also be ignored were he not completely average at the plate so far in 2012.
There are reasons to believe Hanley would not simply be a mediocre player with the Red Sox. He's just 28, has had some BABIP issues, would certainly benefit from the confines of Fenway Park, and could simply need a change of scenery regardless of where it's to.
But those are just mitigating factors to a pretty gigantic risk.
The fact of the matter is that if the Sox were to acquire Hanley Ramirez, it would not be as simple as picking up a guaranteed decent player in exchange for some mid-level prospects. No, right now there's a reason why the Marlins are so eager to include him in trades.
It's because his contract is awful if he really is this new Hanley Ramirez.
Promised $15.5 million in 2013 and $16 million in 2014, Ramirez already comes with a price tag even in a situation that doesn't involve any prospects, and a pretty massive one at that.
For a team already burdened by the massive deals to the likes of Carl Crawford and John Lackey, the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez would only serve to further handicap their ability to make the adjustments necessary heading into 2013.
Just imagine if the Sox headed into the offseason with $15 million to spend after the departure of Daisuke Matsuzaka and a few others. There's a former top player who's spent the last two years a mediocrity, and who only pretends to play a position the Sox have any need at. He wants all $15 million, and he wants it for the next two years. Does that really seem like a proper allocation of funds?
Now imagine that said player also costs you prospects. Maybe not the best of the best, but the top of the next level. That, for the record, is making the perhaps optimistic assumption that none of the top-5 (and more importantly the top-3) would be included in any deal. Either way, it certainly doesn't sound as good as the basic idea of a "Hanley Ramirez trade" does.
Whenever I think about this deal I can't help but go back to 2006, when the Red Sox dealt Ramirez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett...and Mike Lowell.
The Hanley Ramirez of 2012 resembles none of those players so much as Lowell.
The comparison is imperfect, to be sure. Mike Lowell was never as good as Hanley Ramirez at his heights. Lowell managed OPS+ marks in the 120s where Ramirez was in the 140s, if Lowell was likely the better defensive player. At 32, Lowell was also significantly older, making his sudden decline more worrisome, if still slightly ahead of a typical schedule.
At the same time, Lowell didn't come with quite so much risk, with his contract only worth about 60% as much as Ramirez' and a rather smaller sample to his decline. Of course, he also came with one of the most impressive young pitchers of the day.
It's not a perfect comparison, but it's one that should make us stop and think why this prospective deal should be so different. If the Marlins are looking to unload a contract, one where the high reward is matched by high risk, why should the Sox be eager to pay them for the privilege? Especially when they have a young, cheap alternative at the hardest position Ramirez can realistically by trusted with? Sure, you can shove him back into the shortstop role, but you can do the same thing with Adrian Gonzalez, and preventing runs is already a problem for the Red Sox.
A Hanley Ramirez trade may seem like an exciting prospect, but that's mostly because of the name and history involved. Looking at it from a purely objective standpoint, however, Ramirez is not the sort of player a team goes out and pays a premium for--any premium. He's a risk that the Marlins are looking to unload, another potentially bad contract for a team already dealing with too many. If the Marlins want to give him away, or swap big contracts, the Sox should listen. If not, they shouldn't be sucked in by the hype.