According to Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the Florida Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate to the Dodgers. In return, Los Angeles assumes more than $32 million remaining on Hanley’s contract, and will also send hard-throwing pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and minor league reliever Scott McGough to Miami. The two teams agreed to the deal late Tuesday night.
At first glance, the trade seems lop-sided in the Dodgers favor. Hanley Ramirez, the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year, has a trophy case filled with hardware and he’s a career .300/.374/.499 hitter. However, Hanley has hit just .245/.328/.425 the past two seasons, and since putting together a career-defining performance in 2009, his value has plummeted. He posted a .316 batting average and averaged 26 homers and 74 extra-base hits during his four seasons in Miami. By his twenty-sixth birthday (2009), he was already 15 wins (WAA) better than the average shortstop, and he had taken home three Silver Sluggers and three NL All-Star selections. Throughout the past three seasons, he’s been a completely different player. Saddled with injuries and often appearing distracted when he’s on the field, he’s a full win below average since the beginning of the 2010 season.
The Marlins signed Hanley to a heavy-duty six-year $70 million contract in 2008. He hasn’t been the same player since inking the deal. They put up with two-and-a-half years of sub-par production before finally pulling the trigger on a trade. At 45-52, their record places them 12.5 games out of first place in the division, and half-way through a disappointing season, the club’s management got tired of waiting for Ramirez’s bat to come around.
The Miami Marlins’ team president, David Samson, is a brilliant businessman. A day after acquiring a package of blue chip talent that includes one of the best pitching prospects in baseball– Jacob Turner– for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, two so-so players with tenure paychecks, Samson pulled another rabbit out of his hat. Along with Larry Beinfast and the team’s front office, he accomplished an extraordinary feat. He shed all $31 million of the remaining salary on Ramirez’s contract and still managed to reel-in both a young, cheap flamethrower and a future set-up man.
On the Marlins’ end, shedding payroll was the true prize of the trade, so anything beyond that is essentially gravy. Nate Eovaldi is far more than a nice throw-in though. The twenty-two-year-old right-hander has one of the best fastballs in the game, with consistent 95 MPH heat that can reach triple digits. More than just a power-arm though, Eovaldi is already facing MLB hitters and finding plenty of success. Batters have fits trying to loft-his sinker, and after maintaining a 2 groundout/air-out ratio throughout his three-season minor league career, he’s posted a very impressive 48% groundball rate this season in the big leagues.
Eovaldi fits the Marlins perfectly. Their new ballpark is one of the toughest to hit a homerun out of, and Eovaldi’s hard sinker and groundball tendencies could make him a dominant home pitcher. Still young, he needs time to hone his mechanics and improve his command, but he’s a potential front-end starter or closer.
Scott McGough, drafted by the Dodgers in the 5th round of the 2011 Draft, is a hard-throwing former college reliever. His fastball sits firmly in the 91-94 MPH range and can touch 95-96 MPH when he’s on. Armed with a late-breaking downer slider, he’s murder on right-handed hitters, but can also dispatch lefties. While he still needs to fine tune his delivery and polish his command, he isn’t far from the MLB, and could eventually step in as a closer or set-up man. Spending almost all of his pro career in the hitter-friendly Midwest and California Leagues, he’s totalled a 3.48 ERA and 80 strikeouts through 72 innings pitched.
Last offseason, the Marlins signed Jose Reyes to a lucrative deal. Hanley’s ugly glovework (-2.3 dWAR from 2010-2011) was already enough reason to move him off shortstop, but Reyes presence sealed the deal and Miami moved him to third base. Defensively, he took to the new position well, but his .246/.322/.430 line didn’t exactly suit a corner infield job. With the Dodgers, Hanley will return to shortstop, to his old position and the one he knows best. At least for the time being…
Dee Gordon, the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop this season has not produced. The twenty-four-year-old light-hitting burner had a .229/.280/.282 line through the beginning of July and has performed at a well-below replacement level (-1.2 rWAR). Currently on the DL with a dislocated thumb, this will give Hanley some time to get comfortable in the batters box while playing his old defensive position. Shortstop is demanding of course, but at the very least, he won’t have to focus on learning a new defensive position.
Currently in second place in the National League East, the Dodgers desperately needed some help for their slumping lineup. They’re 10-9 so far this month and most of their victories have come via pitching. Eleven of the pitchers that have taken the mound for the Dodgers this season have an above-average ERA+ and their staff is almost six wins better than average as a whole (WAA). They boast the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner in Clayton Kershaw and one of the most dominant young closer’s in baseball, Kenley Jansen.
The lineup hasn’t been nearly as effective as the Dodgers pitching staff. Outside of their superstar, Matt Kemp, the team is an ugly five and a half wins below average. Their offense ranks second-to-last in slugging percentage (.365 combined) among NL teams and dead last in both total bases and home runs. They’re also 13th in runs scored/RBI (3,211) and in strikeouts (700).
Hanley hasn’t been lighting-it-up at the plate, but given a change of scenery, could definitely return to his previous All-Star-level. He’s a career .388/.486/.597 hitter at Dodger Stadium, and he’s also proven to be a second-half player, with a .951 OPS after July. True, he’s lost a lot of his luster, but he’s also only twenty-eight years old, and his fourteen homeruns and fourteen stolen bases this season are evidence that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Han-Ram gives the Dodgers more stability in middle of their lineup, protecting Andre Ethier‘s left-handed bat and providing speed and on-base skills for Matt Kemp to drive-in. He could act as a nice buffer between Ethier and Kemp, and should enjoy the luxury of plenty of hittable fastballs as a result. He boasts a career .905 OPS against southpaws, and is hitting .264/.352/.473 against lefty-handed starting pitchers this season.
For now, Hanley will probably get most of the playing time at shortstop, with Jerry Hairston essentially taking over as the everyday third-baseman. Don Mattingly will be able to bench Juan Uribe, he of the .190 batting average and two homeruns. This scenario works doubly well for the Dodgers lineup, as Uribe’s playing time has essentially accounted for at least two losses this season. Uribe is batting just .120 in July, and could really use some time to sort his problems out.
Even when Gordon comes back, Mattingly now has the option of sticking with Ramirez at shortstop for the stretch run, and giving Hairston everyday bats at the hot corner. Hairston is batting .294/.365/.416 on the season, and he nearly has as many walks (20) as strikeouts (21).
The other piece in the trade for the Dodgers, Randy Choate, is also a great addition. LA’s bullpen has worked with only one left-handed pitcher this season, Scott Elbert. Though Elbert has been a very effective pitcher overall, with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, left-handed hitters have posted a .724 OPS against him this season. He’s hardly a lefty-specialist. Choate is a lefty specialist, and one of the best in the game at his craft. Throughout his career, he’s turned lefties into .203/.277/.285 hitters, and has held them to a lifeless .383 OPS this season.
So, good trade for both parties. The Marlins free-up a ton of payroll and add two big-league caliber arms to their future. The Dodgers address their two biggest needs– power and left-handed relief– by adding one of the most gifted athletes in baseball and by acquiring arguably the best lefty killer. Hanley may not be a 30-30 guy anymore, but if he can right the ship a little bit, Los Angeles will be grateful for a .270 batting average and 25 homeruns from a guy that can help them at short and third base. Very grateful.