Thursday, May 06, 2010

Responding to Ramos Critiques

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.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call the Young trade a complete dud yet. Young is quietly having a nice year. But in terms of immediate dividends, then dud.

Anonymous said...

I don't always agree with everything you write, but on this and your original article, you are spot on. The STRIB just seems to attract a high number of "knee-jerk" fans as I like to call them. Hopefully Ramos last two games without a hit will temper some of their emotions, but I doubt it. Last year, I continued to defend holding on to Liriano while the blog was exploding full of Swarzak is God talk, lets trade Liriano!

Anonymous said...

I Agree, Young is raw talant, he has the natural ability to be a great baseball player and an all star. Although his numbers don't quite show it as of yet. Bud Gardi is known for his development of raw talant. You can already see the changes in his batting stance, conditioning, aditude! The point is he is a good player making the corect adjustments needed to become a great Twin. Notice he looks uncomfortable at the plate this year as he goes through the season he will start hitting. This is the what make the Twins such a special club from bottom to top. Its to bad to see so many players with talant struggle because they have relyed on purley talant and its unfair to the player not get coached to hone their skills. The Twins do a great at accomplishing a strong club through and through. It is a shame to watch talant get worse. There is some great talant that has not been giving the correct or any help. For examble Russell Bryanan, from Macon, GA. Best highschool hitter I have ever seen. His Senior year all the clubs scouts came to macon and pitched thirty pitches to him and Joey Cranford with wooding bats. Bryanan hit 28 of 30 450 feet plus. How do you swrew that up and hit seven homeruns off John Rocker who pitched merly ten miles away at FPD.

Dave said...

I really don't understand the Mauer to 3'rd crowd. If he is healthy enough to play catcher, he is a catcher. When he gets older and his knees are bad, he won't have the range to play 3'rd anyways. I don't want Troy Glause jr. playing 3'rd in target field, all arm and no range. At any rate, its like moving a good starter to the pen to prevent innings buildup. The return we get on Mauer at catcher is way higher than what we would get at 3'rd.

Chris said...

Great column with which I completely agree. Wouldn't Smith jump at a package to get Pedroia, Bucholtz, Bard, or Ellsbury from the Red Sox, for example?

USAFChief said...

When (Mauer) gets older and his knees are bad, he won't have the range to play 3'rd anyways.

Doesn't that sound like a great argument for moving Mauer SOON, rather than an argument for keeping him at catcher?

Nick N. said...

Wouldn't Smith jump at a package to get Pedroia, Bucholtz, Bard, or Ellsbury from the Red Sox, for example?

No reason the Twins would want Ellsbury, and I don't think Ramos would fetch Pedroia or Buchholz. Bard is intriguing, though.

John said...

Number 4 is a particularly hilarious argument. What are the Twins supposed to do, never make another trade?

It also seems like a lot of fans don't understand why Ramos is highly ranked as a prospect- it is largely because of his defense. For instance, the White Sox have a catching prospect in Tyler Flowers who appears to be a clearly superior hitter to Ramos, yet like many minor league catchers, Flowers probably can't play the position in the Majors. Ramos not only can play the position, but can do so at a high level. That is why other teams covet him, and why he will never play another position (in addition to the fact he doesn't hit well enough for 1st base).

neckrolls said...

Don't forget to put Ramos' minor league numbers into context. All of the Twins' full season affiliates are pitcher friendly. The slash line of the average hitter in those leagues is lower than that of the average hitter in the AL. Despite being young for each level, Ramos has consistently been .010-.020 points of OBP and .060-.070 points of slugging better than the average hitter in his league. That kind of success would translate into something like an .835 OPS in last year's AL - enough bat for DH or 1B.

Which means that the Twins shouldn't be anxious to trade him. But they should get something really spiffy for him when they do.

Brady said...

I'm on board with trading Ramos, and I hereby designate your blog as the official "Trade Wilson Ramos" site. I would love to see an entry or two discussing likely trade partners that may have need a long term catcher and some of the prospects we could reasonably discuss. What would fair value consist of and what needs does our current team really need for 2010 or 2011.

Anonymous said...

I agree With you Nick, that Ramos would be a great trade chip for Bill. However, he should not be traded until the post season.k

Anonymous said...

Can't recall the last gold glove catcher to be moved out of his position? Nick, heard of Craig Biggio. He was moved out for the exact reason of protecting his body. The Twins should move Mauer now. As for Morales, how bad does your defense have to be that Butera, the absolute worst hitting PLAYER in baseball takes your position?

Tyler said...

"As for Morales, how bad does your defense have to be that Butera, the absolute worst hitting PLAYER in baseball takes your position?"

Obviously your not a twins fan. Butera isn't playign because Morales has sub par defense. Morales broke his wrist and is recovering from it. A wrist is kinda of important to playign baseball especially cathcer. Once Morales's wrist heals and he proves that he can throw runners out agin than Butera will eb sent back down and Morales will resuem bakc up catcher role.

David said...

Nick -

Really good points about Ramos. Despite being aware of the perils of SSS, I've been gaga for the prospect of a Mauer/Ramos Catcher/DH platoon, but I think you're right. The chances of properly leveraging Ramos without trading him are extremely low.

Jim H said...

I doubt if the Twins will trade Ramos anytime soon. There is no compelling reason to, plus getting what he is worth or potentially worth, would be difficult. It is also possible to keep at least 2 very good catchers and get them adequate playing time. Especially with the DH.

In the late 50's early 60's the Yankees had 3 very good hitting catchers. Elston Howard, Yogi Berra and John Blanchard. They managed to find playing time for all 3, without a DH, no less. Still, things are a quite a bit different now so the situations are probably not comparable.

What I think really, is that the Twins should keep Ramos as long as they reasonably can. Things often change quickly for a team. Young was brought in because the Twins were short of impact bats. Now even if he becomes one, he is going to have a hard time hitting above 7th in the line-up.

Ramos is a potential all star at catcher. He may never reach that potential and the Twins may be better served trading that potential for another need. I think though that you postpone that decision for awhile, hopefully a couple of years. Great catchers are generally pretty hard to come by. If it turns out the Twins have 2 of them, they can make someone pay through the nose for Ramos. I doubt if anyone would do that yet.

Nick N. said...

I would love to see an entry or two discussing likely trade partners that may have need a long term catcher and some of the prospects we could reasonably discuss. What would fair value consist of and what needs does our current team really need for 2010 or 2011.

I'll probably do this as the deadline approaches. That's the soonest I could see the Twins dealing him and their needs could be very different at that point than they are now.

Can't recall the last gold glove catcher to be moved out of his position? Nick, heard of Craig Biggio. He was moved out for the exact reason of protecting his body.

Biggio was not a strong defensive catcher. Also, the shift was mainly to preserve his speed; Mauer's game is not based on speed to nearly the same degree.

It is also possible to keep at least 2 very good catchers and get them adequate playing time. Especially with the DH.

It's possible, yes. My argument has never been that Ramos cannot be a valuable player for the Twins. But since other teams around the league view him as an everyday catcher, he's got more valuable as a trade chit.

If the Twins are truly going to have a difficult time receiving adequate value in a trade for Ramos, as some have suggested, then my position changes. But I don't believe that for a second.

Anonymous said...

The Young trade is not a dud in the least. Garza is just one of those players that needed a change of scenery. He had a bad attitude, and getting to a new place really helped him. Right after the trade, he was screaming at his catcher showing that immature attitude. Good for him for turning it around.

Think about the Twins past left fielders. There's no doubt in my mind I would rather have Delmon that Lew Ford. The Twins used to have nothing in left field, and now we have a 24 year-old kid who is still improving.

Nick N. said...

The Young trade is not a dud in the least. Garza is just one of those players that needed a change of scenery. He had a bad attitude, and getting to a new place really helped him. Right after the trade, he was screaming at his catcher showing that immature attitude. Good for him for turning it around.

Garza's WAR since leaving: 7.4
Bartlett's WAR since leaving: 6.8

Young's WAR since arriving: -1.5
Harris' WAR since arriving: 1.5

The trade was a dud, pretty much regardless of what happens going forward.

Jim H said...

If the Twins are truly going to have a difficult time receiving adequate value in a trade for Ramos, as some have suggested, then my position changes. But I don't believe that for a second.

Define "adequate value". That the rub. My adequate value for a potential all star catcher is perhaps different than yours. There is certainly some risk in keeping Ramos around. If he doesn't reach his potential as a hitter, and that maybe difficult if he used a back up to Mauer and a part time DH with Ph throwed in, his trade value will diminish greatly.

Still, I wouldn't trade him now. I don't think there is a need that trading Ramos would fill. Nobody is going to trade a No. 1 pitcher straight up for Ramos. You probably couldn't get a potential ace straight up either. Any other need is more of a potential need, "next year we may need a MI or a 3b or whatever".

Again, great catchers are hard to find. Let's give it some time and see if Ramos is/can be one. Then maybe he could traded.

Anonymous said...

I'll still trust professional scouting reports over your opinion. After watching Ramos play this past week I don't think it's unreasonable at all to project continued improvement. Big frame, strong hands, excellent bat speed, good balance...they're all there.

Ramos is not switching positions and neither is Mauer, everyone can forget about that right now. Ramos can get plenty of MLB AB's between C and DH.

Corey Eslinger said...

Can we get off of the Garza/Young trade?

If people don't realize by now, this was a Young for Bartlett trade as Garza was NOT going to pitch for the Twins EVER! He did not like the way he was being handled and wanted to leave. Period.

steven said...

"If people don't realize by now, this was a Young for Bartlett trade as Garza was NOT going to pitch for the Twins EVER! He did not like the way he was being handled and wanted to leave. Period."

This is a silly argument. He would have pitched for the Twins, or he would have been out millions of dollars.

Even if he wasn't, that doesn't mean they couldn't have gotten a better package for him.

taylor j said...

im gonna go out on a limb and make a call, ramos and a couple other prospects for cliff lee around the deadline and then a championship! i can see it now with liriano and lee dominating back to back in the rotation!

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