My post yesterday titled "Trading Wilson Ramos is a No-Brainer" garnered mixed reactions. Some said I was spot-on in my analysis while others suggested that the only "no-brainer" was me.
Today, I'd like to respond to a few of the pervasive critiques of my argument in an effort to clarify my position and dispel some myths.
1. Ramos should stay because his bat will be an asset anywhere.
This seems to be a classic case of fans vastly overrating their own prospects. Yes, Ramos has a big frame and a nice swing, but there is little in the way of tangible evidence to suggest that he'll hit enough to be an asset at first base or DH, which are the only places he'd realistically be able to fill in outside of catcher.
Last year the average AL designated hitter posted a .780 OPS and the average AL first baseman posted an .832 OPS. Throughout his minor-league career, Ramos has accumulated a .777 OPS and he hasn't topped .800 at any level (with the exception of a short rehab stint in rookie ball). Now, granted, he's been young for every level and has the frame to evolve as a hitter as he reaches hi mid-20s, but one cannot simply assume he's going to come up to the majors and become a vastly better hitter, particularly considering that he has been nagged by ever-present plate discipline issues throughout his career.
In arguing with my thesis, many people said something to the effect of, "I'll trust the professional scouting reports over your opinion." That's fine, but scouts can get it wrong. I don't see how one can reasonably assume that Ramos' big-league hitting line -- particularly over his first several years as he adjusts to the league -- will be any higher than his .288/.336/.441 career line in the minors. That'd be good production for a catcher -- where American Leaguers averaged just a .715 OPS last year -- but it would be thoroughly mediocre for a DH or first baseman and would be minimizing Ramos' value as an asset.
2. The Twins need Ramos as insurance to protect their expensive investment in Mauer.
Many have argued that Ramos should be kept around so that the Twins will be able to rest Mauer more frequently and will have an able player to fill in should he go down with an injury. Have people completely forgotten that the organization already has a fine in-house option in the form of Jose Morales?
Certainly, Morales is not as great a hitter as his .328 average and .394 on-base percentage in limited MLB playing time would suggest, but the kid is almost an ideal backup catcher, with improving defensive skills and enough of a bat that he won't kill you if he has to fill in for a period of time. The 27-year-old switch-hitter is also cheap and controllable for many years. He's hurt right now, but once he's healed, Morales will return to his role as an above-average backup catcher, a role he can ably fill for the next several years.
3. Ramos enables the Twins to move Mauer to third base, where he'll stay healthier.
I will say that this is the one argument that has the most traction. Mauer's bat would play at third base and he's probably athletic enough to make the switch and remain a capable defender. Plus, outside of Danny Valencia, whom the organization seems to have -- at best -- moderate faith in as a long-term option, the organization is very weak at third base.
But, to reiterate, Mauer is heading toward a legacy as one of the best catchers in baseball history. He's an excellent defender behind the plate and his offensive output from a typically weak position is a big part of what makes him the trascendent talent that he is. Mauer would still probably be a great player as a third baseman, but his value would greatly decrease, particularly in the very plausible scenario that his defensive skills don't transfer over.
I think Mauer will shift away from catcher at some point, but not any time particularly soon. There is simply no precedent (that I can think of) for a team moving a Gold Glove catcher away from his natural position this early in his career.
4. Bill Smith traded Matt Garza for Delmon Young. I don't trust him.
People continue to fall back on the failed Garza/Young swap or the Johan Santana trade as evidence that Smith is too incompetent to bring back a worthy haul for the Twins' young catching prospect. Cut the guy some slack, folks. It was his first year on the job and -- in the case of the Santana trade -- he was leveraged to the point that he was in almost a no-win situation. The Mets were essentially bidding against themselves.
That won't be the case with Ramos. As a young power-hitting catcher with advanced defensive skills, Ramos is an extremely valuable asset in a league where many teams lack a legitimate long-term answer behind the plate. Given that Ramos will be cheap for the next six years, there's no big contract to stop small-market teams from bidding on him. If Smith makes Ramos' availability known, he'll be getting plenty of calls and should have no trouble bringing back an impressive haul.
Yes, the Young trade was a dud. But Young was more of a "can't-miss prospect" than Ramos is an he has done little since coming over to the Twins, while that deal has yielded a frontline starting pitcher and everday shortstop for the Rays. Wouldn't it be nice if Smith could follow a similar path in moving Ramos? Since he's coming off such a tremendous offseason, I'm inclined to give the Twins' GM the benefit of the doubt and overlook his lapses from three years ago.