I was about to go to bed last night when my Twitter feed lit up with a deal between the Dodgers and Marlins. 3B/SS Hanley Ramirez and LHP Randy Choate are now in LA in exchange for RHP Nathan Eovaldi and RHP Scott McGough.
Let's start with who the Marlins got.
McGough is in his first full pro season. He is a right-handed reliever with decent numbers in the hitter-firendly California League. Maybe McGough becomes something, maybe he does not. The reality is that he is a 22-year-old reliever multiple levels away from the majors with nice but not incredible numbers.
Eovaldi is a more intriguing prospect. He is also 22 years old, but already has a couple cups of coffee in the majors with mild success. His best weapon is a mid-90s fastball, but a lack of strikeouts in the majors and minors suggest it is pretty hittable. More developed secondary offerings would help Eovaldi out, but he is young. I see him as a dependable third or fourth starter, and he can pitch for the Marlins immediately.
Now for the more interesting part of the deal, the Dodgers end.
Randy Choate is a classic LOOGY. He gets lefties out, but righties hammer him. He is what he is, and provides a specialized skillset that a contending team can use.
Hanley Ramirez is the headliner in this deal. Ramirez used to be one of the best players in the National League as recently as 2009. He seemed destined for a Hall of Fame career with the way he hit for average and power, along with great speed. The fielding was pretty bad, but it didn't matter with the offense.
However, Hanley stopped hitting last year, and he's not much better this year. For a year and a half Ramirez has been a decent everyday player, which is far from the superstar he was, and the $15+ million superstar salary he collects through 2014.
Ramirez's attitude adds an intriguing subtext to his decline. He was benched by both Fredi Gonzalez and Jack McKeon in successive seasons for what amounted to a lack of professional integrity. Nothing serious in the eyes of the law, but the types of things that suggest Ramirez does not take the game as seriously as his managers wish he would.
Hence, the title of my post, Hanleywood. I can't help but think of when the Dodgers acquired Manny Ramirez in 2008. The Red Sox were clearly tired of Manny being Manny, although he still was hitting pretty well. However, the change of scenery seemed to boost Manny into another world. He batted almost .400 that summer for the Dodgers with an absurd 1.231 OPS. Fake dreadlocks popped up in the stands and "Mannywood" was born.
Hanley Ramirez is reportedly quite excited to join the Dodgers, and we will find out how much of his struggles had to do with the scenery he was in. It's easy to think that the Marlins were an exciting franchise to be a part of with their very flashy off-season, complete with Pitbull screaming, "HEY, HEY BABY!" at their uniform unveiling. There's another side to the Marlins though.
The Marlins have never won a division title, yet have won two World Series (1997 and 2003). They essentially hit the jackpot twice in their first 15 years of existence, yet still have not found a way to hang on to a core group of talented players for an extended period of time. Their leadership claims the economics of the game are to blame. I am not so sure.
A new stadium was supposed to be the missing piece for the Marlins, but storm clouds hung over the facility well before the 2012 Marlins took the field and fell short of expectations. The ballpark was publicly financed, and the SEC is currently investigating the deal. Long story short, the Marlins got 80% of the stadium bill covered because they said they were too poor to fund a ballpark themselves. They never showed their finances, and rumor has it that they turned some good profits while claiming they had empty pockets.
Parking is a major issue too. The city of Miami might be on the hook for $1.5 to $2 million in property taxes annually that they did not expect on the stadium's parking garage, and local residents have paid fines for parking in front of their own homes on gamedays.
Even before the stadium was a reality, and government agencies started to wonder about the stadium deal, Major League Baseball had their eyes on the Marlins. In January 2010 the Marlins were forced to publicly agree that revenue sharing money would go to player salaries. This is money collected from other "rich" teams to hand to the "poor." The Marlins are not the only beneficiary of these funds, but they are the only franchise that's been forced to say they will spend their money on players.*
*Flip-flopper alert! I wrote about how silly this was of Major League Baseball because of how well the Marlins were doing. I still say that the Marlins spent wisely, but there is more to this story that I did not recognize back in January 2010.
I am sure the Marlins do not have the same kind of resources as the Yankees and Red Sox, but there seem to be quite a few sets of eyeballs not all that convinced that they spend what they do have. I'd bet it's hard to fund a payroll like other teams have when a team's leadership hoards cash like the Marlins appear to do.
Getting back to Hanley Ramirez, he obviously has no direct involvement in the issues I just detailed. However, he played under the leadership that made those decisions. I haven't been to Miami, but I don't get the feeling that the Marlins are beloved by the community. The Marlins leadership seems more interested in exploiting their surroundings than embracing them. Hanley should be professional enough to give his best effort for millions of dollars, but the message from above seems to be that money is more important than anything else. Ramirez gets his salary whether he hustles out to shallow left field for a ground ball or not. Is it a coincidence his best years came before he earned more than $10 million in a season?
The Ramirez trade is such a Marlins deal. The Dodgers took on all of Ramirez's remaining salary, even though he is not worth $15 million based on his 2012 performance. The move was clearly motivated by finances. The Marlins could have waited until the trade deadline to see if a better offer came up, or they could have demanded more prospects by paying some of Hanley's contract. The only reason to pull the trigger on this trade now is if getting rid of Ramirez's contract was the most important factor.
Despite all my focus on money, there is also a possibility that Hanley Ramirez simply isn't as good as he used to be. If that turns out to be the case, the Marlins just traded a decent everyday player that is grossly overpaid for a decent starting pitcher that will be vastly underpaid. The Marlins could end up winning this trade handily. I think that Larry Beinfest, and now Michael Hill, as GMs of the Marlins do not receive enough credit for the job they have done within their limitations. Whether or not the Marlins should spend so little on players, they are the ones who found a way to play respectable baseball in remarkably austere conditions.
Still, if Ramirez reverts to his previous superstar form, the Dodgers are the clear winners and it would be fair to question the environment around the Marlins. Miami probably should be questioned anyway, regardless of Hanley's performance. Their baseball people know how to make sound baseball decisions, but that is not enough when an ownership group exploits the civic trust that a successful sports franchise depends on.