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Making Sense of the Hanley Rumors

Hanley Ramirez (Wikimedia Commons, user TonyTheTiger)
The Mariners, reportedly, have shown initial interest in SS Hanley Ramirez. This makes little sense at first glance, and it is important to qualify that rumors are rumors. Many whispers, particularly this time of year, come from agents trying to drive up the price tag on their players. The Mariners say they have money to spend and they want right-handed hitters, so it is possibly (if not likely) in the rumor source's best interest to say that the Mariners are interested in Hanley Ramirez.

Likewise, the Mariners should be interested in Hanley at the right price. If he signs a league minimum with the M's, who would complain? However, hidden underneath the "interest" is the deeper question about money. Would Hanley be worth the money it takes to sign him? That's a tougher question to answer, but the more I look at Hanley, the more I like him as a free agent target.

To start with, Hanley is somewhere between a good and great hitter. He has some power but his real value is in finding the gaps with a nice average and on-base percentage, not unlike Robinson Cano. Fangraphs estimates that Hanley's offense was worth 21.8 runs last year,* which is in line with his career averages and somewhere between good and great.

*For context, Fangraphs estimates that Kyle Seager's offense was worth 16.4 runs last year and Cano's 28.8 runs.

Ramirez also plays shortstop, a premium defensive position, though he has never been noted as a good defender (or all that bad either.) Chris Taylor is certainly a better defender than Hanley, and Brad Miller is arguably a better one too. Hanley could potentially switch over to third base or left field (he's reportedly willing to do either), but he certainly won't supplant Kyle Seager and even Dustin Ackley isn't a gimme to be supplanted anymore at this point. It's hard to imagine Ramirez playing a better left field than Ackley, which means he would have to outhit by a sizeable margin. He might do that, but at that point is the financial burden worth it?

However, Hanley Ramirez is a good enough hitter that he might still make good sense. He compares quite well against the popular Mariners target in rumor circles, Victor Martinez. V-Mart makes perfect sense. He's already a full-time DH and he absolutely raked last season. Martinez is the seemingly natural fit for the Mariners.

Indeed, Martinez was amazing last season. His offense was worth a whopping 40.7 runs last season, the 7th highest total in all of baseball. But the 2014 version of Victor Martinez has come and gone. The real question is what the 2015 version will do...

...and the odds are that 2015 V-Mart will be a good hitter, but not 2014 good. He just enjoyed the best season he will ever have. Martinez's best offensive season before 2014 was 2009 when he got traded from Cleveland to Boston and totaled a value of 20.4 runs. Yes, Victor's 2014 was literally twice as good as any other season he ever had.

It would be foolish to project anything beyond a value of 20 offensive runs from Victor Martinez, which, coincidentally is right around what Hanley Ramirez produced in 2014 in what was a rather normal season by his standards. Additionally, Hanley Ramirez is six years younger than Victor Martinez and can still play some defense around the diamond.

Hanley's relative youth is likely to get him a longer deal than Victor Martinez, but there is no guarantee a team will have to pay Hanley more per year than Victor at this point. The free agent market is in its infant stages and still developing. Who knows what happens.

For now, I would hope that the Mariners have reached out to Hanley Ramirez. If they are hellbent on getting a right-handed slugger for Safeco Field, I would much rather have Ramirez than Martinez if the annual salaries are close to equal. Of course, I would probably pass on both of them at the prices they are likely to demand, but if Victor Martinez makes sense for the Mariners then Hanley Ramirez makes even more sense for them.