After joining the Major Leagues as an expansion franchise in 1993, the Florida Marlins were the quickest expansion team to ever win a world title, accomplishing this impressive feat in only 4 years existence. The 1997 championship team was dismantled as quickly as it had been assembled, stars shipped out to save money. In 2003, the Marlins struck again, upsetting the juggernaut Yankees in the Fall Classic with a mix of homegrown youngsters and veteran free agent pickups. This franchise has won two world titles without ever winning a division title, and lately has been a lot more “potential” than results. Marlins fans have watched a bevy of All-Stars come and go. The 1997 team had Antonio Alfonseca, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, Livan Hernandez, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Craig Counsell, Darren Daulton, Edgar Rentaria, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Mark Kotsay, Devon White and Gary Sheffield. When the Marlins won again in 2003, only Castillo and Conine were still there. In 1998 the Marlins became the first team ever to lose 100 games the year after winning the World Series. When Wayne Huizenga sold the team to John Henry and his group, a new era was ushered in, but the principle remained the same. Watch the bottom line. Despite Florida’s reputation as a breeding ground for youth athletic talent, fan bases in the Miami and Tampa areas just can’t seem to get behind their teams.
The 2003 squad featured Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, A.J. Burnett, Ugeth Urbina, Dontrelle Willis, Ivan Rodriguez, Castillo, Alex Gonzalez, Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Juan Encarnacion, Juan Pierre, etc. Marlins fans watched that team win and then be disemboweled as quickly, as Jeffrey Loria, Larry Beinfest and Co. (who had purchased the franchise from Henry in 2002) sold off parts to save money. The Marlins once again became irrelevant, playing in a decrepit stadium and facing an annual uphill climb in the rugged NL East. The Marlins did manage to stockpile good young talent through their drafts and trades. Guys have still come and gone (Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Dan Uggla, Pavano, etc.) but they have been readily replaced by new crops. Young guns like Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan, Josh Johnson, Leo Nunez, Mike Stanton, Ricky Nolasco, Anibel Sanchez and Gaby Sanchez have made the Marlins a respectable team. The biggest gem is Hanley Ramirez, pried from the Red Sox in a deal that sent Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota to Beantown .
Now that the Marlins of Florida have become the Marlins of Miami and have secured a brand new stadium, the ante has been upped in South Florida. But will Hanley Ramirez be around to enjoy the new dawn? The Marlins are for real now, signing Mark Buerhle, Heath Bell and speedster Jose Reyes all in a matter of days. According to reports, they were also serious players for the services of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson who both ended up with the Angels. Hanley is openly campaigning for a trade because the arrival of Reyes pushes Hanley to third base, a move he is obstinately refusing thus far. The game is to create possible and plausible landing spots for HanRam.
Hanley Ramirez is still only 27. He is a three-time All Star (2008,2009,2010), 2x Silver Slugger (’08 and ’09), was the NL ROY in 2006, won a batting title in 2009, joined the 30-30 club in 2008 and is a star at baseball’s thinnest position outside of catcher. In May 2008, he signed a six-year deal worth $70 million, a bargain for one of the game’s young stars. He has three years left on that deal. But Hanley’s image and reputation have been tarnished by instances of laziness, accusations of carelessness and run-ins with managers resulting in benching. Like in all sports, his talent will outweigh any potential baggage should the Marlins be forced into trading Ramirez, which is his stated desire. Who has the goods to trade for Hanley? It’s obvious he will only acquiesce to playing shortstop. What teams have shortstops that would preclude them from trading for Hanley? Not many. The Rockies (with Tulowitzki), Yankees (Jeter), Marlins (Reyes), and Cubs (Starlin Castro) are really the only teams that would be out of the running from the get-go. Other good quality starting shortstops are hard to find. Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez, JJ Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, Yunel Escobar, none of these are Hanley Ramirez and their respective teams wouldn’t hesitate to move them if they felt they could bring Hanley in. If anyone could convince HanRam to move to third, his potential landing spots would increase. So who can trade for him? We should assume only certain teams meet the prerequisites: a hole at short, redeemable trade assets and the money to pay Ramirez through this contract and a possible extension.
There are certain teams that we just know can’t or won’t pay Ramirez. That list would look like the Rays, Indians, Royals, A’s, Pirates, Reds, Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Padres. Other teams could probably afford him but have long-term commitments that might preclude their spending excess on Ramirez. Teams like the Mets, Dodgers and Astros are undergoing sales and might not be in position to sign marquee free agents for a while. We can safely assume no team within the NL East will be on the list. The Phillies, Braves, Mets and Nationals are out (although as the Dan Uggla deal illustrates, this is not a hard-and-fast rule). The Yankees have a commitment to Jeter at short and a logjam at DH, so DJ might be playing short until his range is even worse than statuesque. The Red Sox cupboard is pretty bare after trading for Adrian Gonzalez and promoting others to the big club, and they have long-term commits to Gonzalez, Crawford, Pedroia, Beckett, Lester, Buchholz and Lackey and need money set aside to sign guys like Bard, Ellsbury, and etc. to deals. Tampa Bay can’t afford Hanley. Baltimore and Toronto are both intriguing destinations. Both clubs could probably afford Hanley’s extension and have young talent to trade. Incumbent shortstops J.J. Hardy and Yunel Escobar are good but not in Ramirez’s class.
Every team in the AL Central could use a SS upgrade. Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera are the runaway leaders at that position in this division. The Royals and Indians have the prospects but not the cash. The Tigers, Twins and White Sox have the cash but probably not the young players the Marlins would be looking for. White Sox G.M. Kenny Williams is a bold business man, and maybe a package like Gordon Beckham/John Danks plus a blue-chip prospect could get it done. That kind of move would precipitate Alexei moving to third base.
The Rangers with Elvis Andrus are all set at short and the Angels are stretched to their budgetary limit one would imagine. The A’s pinch their pennies like a 13 year old sister pinches her little brother. Seattle again is hard to get a gauge on. The ownership has money, and not much committed to the current roster. Seattle’s farm system is currently ranked 16<sup>th</sup>, but that was with Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda in the system. Now that those two are big leaguers, the system is pretty empty and the M’s probably don’t have the chips to swing back to Miami for a player like Hanley Ramirez. If the Mariners are smart, they will trade Ichiro while he still has some value to a contender. It’s either that or King Felix would have to be moved for a huge haul of prospects. The Mariners will most likely find themselves staring up at Texas and Anaheim all year in 2012, so moving veterans like Chone Figgins, Brandon League, Miguel Olivo and Jason Vargas will be imperative at the trade deadline. Ichiro is a public-relations goldmine both here and in Japan, so he may be in Seattle for good despite the sinking ship and the need to rebuild. Maybe the Mariners can sign Hideki Matsui and Yu Darvish and rake in enough cash in marketing/merchandise to in the future swing deals for free agents like Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes. Reyes in particular would have been a great fit in a big ballpark like Safeco.
In the NL Central, the Astros are being sold and moving to the AL, so the new owners might want to make a splash. But the Astros system is notoriously weak right now. The Pirates can’t afford Hanley, the Cubs have Starlin Castro, and the Brewers have money tied up in their core of Braun/Weeks/Hart/Gallardo/Greinke/M
arcum/LuCroy, etc. They don’t have the prospects left after the Sabathia, Marcum and Greinke trades. They couldn’t swap Prince for prospects because they were in contention, so now they get nothing for him. But you have to give the BrewCrew credit for going for it when they knew they had a shot. The Cardinals could use a shortstop, and they apparently had the money to give to Pujols. They also might have the young players to swap to Miami. It’s something to keep an eye on. Hanley would have to readjust his poor attitude to satisfy the sanctimonious fan bases of the Midwest.
Out west, the Padres can’t afford him, Tulo and Drew man short for the Rockies and D’Backs respectively. The Dodgers just gave Matt Kemp a big deal and with Monster McCourt on the way out, there could be hope that the new owners flex the muscle of a market like Los Angeles (hey, the Angels just did it!). The Giants under Brian Sabean have to be hesitant to hand out big deals after getting burned by Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand. They will need the cash to keep Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner together, keep Brian Wilson happy and Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval in the infield.
So there doesn’t seem to be any great fits for Hanley anywhere. With so much talent to be had, a lot of teams that don’t look like good fits might be willing to pony up and shuffle some pieces to accommodate Ramirez. As it stands now, Marlins fans hope Hanley accepts the prospect of winning games as more important to where on the field he plays. South Florida wants him, and they hope Hanley wants them back. We’ve seen players balk at position changes before (Michael Young comes to mind) but hopefully for the good of the game, this diva doesn’t force his way out of town. The new Miami Marlins will be a lot more fun to watch with both Hanley and Jose Reyes running around together. Can’t you just imagine all the fun Ozzie Guillen Spanglish new conferences to come!??!.