With all the youth and inexperience around the Indians this spring, Hanley Ramirez finds himself a bit of an odd man out. There’s a youth movement in Cleveland, and a 35-year-old bat-only player would be right to feel out of place among all these young athletes with something to prove. Ramirez has proven a lot in his career — he won a Rookie of the Year, a batting title, and came in as high as second place in MVP voting. He’s been great.
That “been” is the key, though. The last two seasons, Ramirez has been... horrible, at least by his own lofty standards. Even by normal standards he’s been pretty bad. He posted a 91 wRC+, was worth negative 0.7 WAR, and got DFA’d by the eventual World Champs while on the last year of a $22 million deal. It’s a pretty ignominious ending to a career that, from the outset — and even midway through — looked something like meteoric. But the Indians are giving him a shot this spring. I, for one, just wish it would work out for Ramirez.
It’s that hackneyed, stupid romanticism of baseball that we all feel dumb for still getting filled with, but hope does spring eternal every year, and for players as much as teams. In Ramirez, we have a former total phenom and superstar now finding himself on the edge of the game, with a foot all the way out of it. It’s a typical tale, and the kind we hate to hear. Age is just a bastard sometimes, and seeing it ravage such a former talent of that skill and ability is a bit sad. We know he’s never going to return to the heights of the turn of the decade, but something valuable would sure be nice.
What would that look like though? I do want it to work out for Ramirez, but he’s going to have a problem finding a place on the team. The outfield, for all its lack of established talent, is kind of stuffed, and it’s not like he can do anything else besides DH and play first base. So his own future with the Indians hinges on the relative success of a handful of outfielders, Jake Bauers, and Carlos Santana. Those last two are sure to make the team, so he’s going to have to earn it by being more than a nice guy in the clubhouse. Which makes the spring so frustrating. As of this writing, he’s 3-for-15 with three runs batted in. I haven’t seen whether he’s hitting the ball mega-hard or working counts or in the best shape of his life or anything like that. And that’s what he needs to do to make the team.
Aside from making the team, a sense of realism is helpful, even if it is a bummer. It’s not like Ramirez is going to post that .342/.410/.543 line he did when he placed second in MVP voting. Maybe in a platoon situation that’s almost approachable, like when Ryan Raburn popped a .901 OPS over 86 games for Cleveland facing almost purely lefties. Outside of that, though, is it really so much to ask for an .800 OPS, or even .750? He hit .286/.361/.505 with 30 dingers in 147 games as recently as 2016. Admittedly that’s a long time for an athlete, and he fell right off a cliff since then, but tapping into something close to that would put Ramirez above a good number of other offensive options for the Indians. Though even that isn’t that realistic.
The realistic version of Hanley is a Jason Giambi circa 2013, when Big G was little more than a pinch hitter and overpaid bench coach. The Indians don’t need the second thing, but tapping into whatever little lightning is left in that bat is about the value that he can bring to the table unless he finds the fountain of youth or something incredible happens.
Baseball does age you very quickly, and kicks you to the curb the minute you’ve lost that little bit of edge that once made you great. Ramirez was one of the best in the world for a while there. Talent like that always departs, but not all at once. Even if it’s been a sharp slide for him, there’s got to be something still there. Talent will always win out, but over a long season—and maybe in a playoff series against a former team—a little magic can go a long way too.