Sign Jose Ramirez: Now

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Baseball Club started its new history as the Cleveland Guardians on November 19, 2021 inviting fans to the team shop to purchase new gear featuring the new nickname. The sign fell off its hinges on day one. That's basically been the story of the Cleveland Guardians since they officially changed the name. The team had needs and goals entering the 2022 offseason and, with the lockout (no it wasn't a strike) precious little offseason to accomplish them. Those needs were:

1. Extend their lease with the City of Cleveland for Jaco...I mean Progressive Field

2. Fix an outfield which has struggled to produce, any, productive outfielders since Michael Brantley left

3. Bring some order to the bullpen which, outside of Emmanuel Clase, had few legitimate options

4. Perhaps extend some of our current stars, Jose Ramirez being the prime opportunity

5. Finally, through some combination of the above: change the fan perception of this club, coinciding with the name change

The team did secure an extension on the stadium keeping the team in Cleveland for at least another 15 years. That's not nothing. The team basically failed on every other objective. In short: it's been a disaster. The new team shop sign, and the new sign on the front of the stadium being installed crooked, basically confirm what we already knew: not only does this team suck at marketing, it frequently acts like they do not care.

In what Zack Meisel called the most crucial offseason since 2012: the Cleveland Guardians blew it. Plain and simple. There is still one thing this team could do to restore some semblance of trust with its fanbase: sign Jose Ramirez to an extension and keep him for life. Others have written about this subject, I want to take a stab at it and add some additional, Hall of Fame, context.

Jose Ramirez is an Amazing Player

Jose Ramirez already ranks 21st all time in Cleveland history in bWAR. That's pretty darn outstanding, and he'll likely surpass five of the players ahead of him with a moderately below average season. If he posts what he's averaging the past five seasons: he'll surpass Early Wynn for 15th all time. Zack Meisel asked the question whether Jose can become a Hall of Famer earlier this winter and concluded he's got a slimmer of a chance. I have looked at this question in the 2020 offseason. Overall, Jose's chances are about as good as any player's in baseball.

Jose already ranks 48th all time in JAWS. He's only played nine seasons and only eight of those have been full. He's averaged a 5.2 bWAR pace since 2016. He's been a top 5 player in baseball in the last five years. Overall, I do not know what I would need to do to convince someone of the awesomeness of Jose Ramirez. I'll try anyway, here are a few of my favorite Jose Ramirez stats:

  • Jose Ramirez hits the ball hard: he's led the league in extra-base hits twice (2017 and 2020)
  • In 2018, arguably his best season, he walked over 20 times more than he struck out
  • Jose has won three Silver Slugger Awards at third base (he was robbed in 2021)
  • Jose has only led the league in three major or minor categories: Runs (2020) and Doubles (2017) are the big ones, but he's also led the league in Sacrifice Hits (2014) which he did in only 28 games
  • Jose has scored over 100 runs three times ('17, '19 and '21) and was on pace to score 100 runs in 2020.
  • Jose Ramirez lost 79 helmets in 2021, surpassing his previous career high of 57 in 2016
Jose is not just a good hitter, he can steal bases and defends quite well. He did not win a Gold Glove in 2021, but was a finalist for the award. Overall, his 31.5 bWAR since 2016 surpasses fellow infielders: Francisco Lindor, Jose Altuve, Anthony Rendon & Carlos Correa. It also surpasses Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Christian Yellich, Freddie Freeman, Alex Bregman. Basically, Jose Ramirez ranks behind: Mike Trout (the GOAT), Mookie Betts, and is basically tied with Nolan Arenado. In short, there are simply not that many players as good as Jose Ramirez, and there are even fewer with his consistency. He's been criminally underrated despite being voted in the top 3 in the MVP voting three times since 2016.

A Question of Risk

Now here's the thing: signing Jose Ramirez to a contract extension is risky. Betting on any player to age into his 30s gracefully is a risk. Health becomes a problem, decline becomes a concern: players are simply better (more often than not) in their 20s than in their 30s. The Indians tried signing players in their 30s, and most of those contracts did not end well. Travis Hafner's extension was an albatross around the neck of the franchise, Nick Swisher & Michael Bourn became toads after solid 2013s, Jake Westbrook was not worth his minor extension, Kerry Wood was a dud. There are plenty of examples of players declining rapidly into their 30s. No doubt about it.

That being said I think people frequently miss that, sometimes, really good players age gracefully. Here are a few former Indians who aged well:

C.C. Sabathia

The Sabathia trade was certainly a good one for Cleveland: it brought us Michael Brantley after all. But C.C. Sabathia was stellar after he left Cleveland. He posted one of the best half seasons of all time in Milwaukee and then went to New York where he flourished. His first extension was a great one; and while he struggled for a few years, he managed to turn his career around and became a crafty lefty towards the end of his career. He finished with over 3,000 strikeouts and 250 wins; he's likely a Hall of Famer.

Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee did not last as long as Sabathia, but he was superb after leaving Cleveland being worth 25 bWAR from 2010-2014. Arguably his best season came in age 32 in Philadelphia, and he was still a Cy Young contender at 34.

Victor Martinez

El Capitain departed for Boston, but continued an excellent career. He did eventually move off catcher, but remained a productive hitter late into his 30s. At 37 he still managed a 127 OPS+ in over 150 games for Detroit.

Michael Brantley

Michael Brantley was not as good as Sabathia, Lee or Martinez: but he's remained a consistent performer in his mid-30s averaging a solid 3.0 bWAR in his three seasons in Houston. He's never repeated his 2014 season (he's never really came close), but he's been a productive hitter for years. He's also, if we're being honest, been a better outfielder than any single outfielder in Cleveland since he left in 2018.

Yes, there are plenty of examples of players who did not age gracefully. There's always a chance Jose (and any player who plays into their 30s) will decline. Sometimes rapidly. But age is not destiny; there is no reason Jose cannot be the rare player who does age well. He would not even be the first former Clevelander to play well into his 30s.

Right at Least One Wrong

In my opinion there's nothing the front office or ownership can do to completely repair the missed opportunity that was the 2022 offseason. Paul Dolan had a chance to really rebrand the Guardians away from the Indians: he could have ordered the front office to not take 'no' for an answer with Oakland (or Cincinnati) and acquire Matt Olson and/or Jesse Winker. He could have opened his wallet to sign at least one more solid veteran relief pitcher, and he could have put the bare minimum amount of effort into marketing the team. Unfortunately the Dolans chose none of those options and are now risking the embarrassment of not selling out Opening Day (not that it will ever officially fail to sell out: I am confident the Cleveland Boys and Girls club might miraculously buy thousands of tickets at a bargain price if all else fails). Cleveland always sells out Opening Day, typically in minutes.

Signing Jose Ramirez to an extension, again, will not right those wrongs. But it will signal to the fanbase that this team has not completely gone deaf: they understand the frustration of the fans, and are trying to build some trust. Again, Jose Ramirez might be the best Cleveland player since Jim Thome & Manny Ramirez. Retaining him sends a message: we are prepared to invest in the team when it matters. Today, it matters.

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