Now that the Cleveland Indians have officially traded Francisco Lindor, let’s discuss their other left-side infielder who is actually a better fit for the Milwaukee Brewers: two-time All-Star, third baseman Jose Ramirez. Wouldn’t it be nice to fill that giant hole at the hot corner with a reliable, near-elite player for the next few seasons?
With guys like Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, and Omar Narvaez finishing 2020 well below expectations, Milwaukee scored the 3rd-fewest runs in the NL (4.12) as one of the worst offenses in baseball. While it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back from at least a couple of those hitters, the Brewers need another high-quality bat to help ensure the offense jumps into the top half of the league (at least).
If you believe in the Crew’s emerging pitching staff (6th in NL ERA last season) led by Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader, and Devin Williams, then a top-7 offense makes them a legitimate NL Central title contender. In fact, with the rest of the division losing talent (e.g. Yu Darvish, Trevor Bauer, Marcell Ozuna) and mostly sitting on its collective hands this off-season, Milwaukee may be the favorite with this one move.
While some people may doubt this is a realistic or worthwhile option, trading for the 28-year-old switch-hitter has parallels to the Brewers’ acquisition of 2018 MVP Christian Yelich. I was certainly chastised and called many names for suggesting Milwaukee trade for Yelich a month before it actually happened. So maybe give this thought a shot; the other deal seemed to work out pretty well.
Part of the reason this trade feels possible is because of the intriguing similarities to when Yelich was acquired.
First off, Ramirez plays for a “small market team” that is cutting payroll by trading away its star position player to a New York baseball club – the Mets. Meanwhile, a month before the Brewers nabbed Yelich, the “small market” Miami Marlins dealt Giancarlo Stanton to a New York team – the Yankees.
Secondly, Ramirez is underappreciated and often overlooked by the average fan – much like Yelich was (especially playing in Miami). Of course, in the small-sample 2020 campaign, Ramirez finished 2nd in AL MVP voting with a .993 OPS and league-leading 45 runs scored. I’m still not sure many people noticed.
So while Ramirez is more established with a stronger track record (three Silver Sluggers, three top-3 MVP finishes) than Yelich had at the time, think about all the “best” third baseman people likely think about before getting to Ramirez. OK, now forget about almost all of them.
Did you know, since 2017, Ramirez has the 2nd-highest WAR among MLB third basemen? His 21.3 WAR only trails Anthony Rendon (22.6) over that time. Ramirez’s WAR over the past 4 seasons is better than every other man at the hot corner: Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Manny Machado, Matt Chapman, Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson. Should I go on?
Though Ramirez isn’t at the top of any particular category, his well-rounded offensive skills place him in the top-5 in just about every valuable category. For example, his .917 OPS ranks 3rd and his WRC+ of 147 is 4th in baseball at his position. Throw in the fact that he bats from both sides of the dish while playing solid, consistent defense, and you have an extremely valuable asset.
Speaking of value, that’s where another similarity to Yelich comes into play as Ramirez has a team-friendly contract with multiple years of control remaining. Yelich had 5 years left on his deal when the Brewers made the trade. The total value added up to $58.25 million, or an average of $11.65 million per season. That included a $15 million club option in the final year of the deal.
Meanwhile, Ramirez is signed for $9 million in 2021, with club options for $11 million and $13 million in 2022 and 2023 respectively. That comes out to an average of $11 million per season, essentially the same as Yelich when he was acquired. The Brewers can definitely take on that salary as part of a three-year window to compete - before they may have to decide on going in another direction.
So why would Cleveland make a deal? There are a number of things that somewhat favor a trade – particularly with Milwaukee.
First of all, the Indians are probably the third-best team in the AL Central and middle of the pack in the league overall (even before the Lindor trade). Now with the elite shortstop playing in New York, it’s unlikely Cleveland would be a playoff team, let alone a World Series contender.
While the club had the AL’s best team ERA in the last year’s shortened season, their offense was atrocious. Cleveland owned the second-worst OPS+ (86) in the AL, while only the Texas Rangers scored fewer runs per game than the Indians’ 4.13 average. Call me crazy, but trading away a four-time All-Star with an .833 career OPS (117 OPS+) isn’t going to help matters – especially with the underwhelming return the Indians received.
That seemingly light package of players Cleveland got back for Lindor (and Carlos Carrasco) might encourage the Indians to look for more. Two areas Cleveland could use the potential for high-level future talent are in the outfield and at catcher.
Cleveland has just one catcher among its top-30 prospects on MLB.com: Bo Naylor. Though Naylor has impressed many, putting all your eggs in one basket for a catcher rarely works out in the big leagues. On the flipside, Milwaukee has five catchers in its farm system among the top-30 in the farm system among the top-30, highlighted by 4th-ranked Mario Feliciano. While I don’t think he would be available, the Brewers would certainly be willing to part with a couple of the others. Plus, with their slew of catchers on the 40-man roster, Jacob Nottingham may be available if Cleveland had interest.
As for the outfield, the Indians acquired Isaiah Greene (now 16th in their system) in the deal with the Mets, but only one outfielder is in Cleveland’s top-15 prospects. Would the Brewers be willing to trade them their top prospect, newly-drafted Garrett Mitchell? Milwaukee traded number-one prospect – and outfielder – Lewis Brinson to Miami in the Yelich trade. If the Brewers were open to trading Mitchell, that may create some serious talks quickly.
Between Mitchell, the catchers, and possibly a pitcher (outside of Ethan Small), a four-for-one swap to get Ramirez could work. Milwaukee’s farm system is already seen as relatively weak, especially at the higher levels. So if it’s going to take a number of years to see these guys blossom in the show anyway, trading some future talent to win now makes some sense. Compete for three years, and if you need to go into rebuild mode, start the process then with an eye a couple of additional seasons down the road.
Yes, it may be a stretch to see Ramirez dealt to the Brewers this off-season, but I’d love to see them explore it. Cleveland would be saving more money and continuing to bring in young talent to recycle through their club. After all, of the top 10 players in WAR from the Indians’ 2018 three-peat division champion team, Ramirez is the only one that remains. So, it certainly seems like they are going down the path of their own rebuild.
From the Brewers’ perspective, how often will they be in position to be the favorite in a division with the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals? Sometimes you have to take advantage of the circumstances you’re given and adjust plans on the fly. That thinking – and action – got the Brewers within one win of the World Series behind Yelich; the 2021 season has a similar feel and opportunity.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference