Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Trading Wilson Ramos is a No-Brainer

Wilson Ramos has been garnering a lot of excitement around these parts lately. After working his way up to the top of most prospect lists with his outstanding work in the minors over the past couple years (he ranked second on my preseason list), Ramos was so impressive in spring training this year that he tempted the team to bring him north as Joe Mauer's backup despite his being just 22 and having only 54 games of experience above the Single-A level.

Ultimately the team wisely decided that giving Ramos regular at-bats in the minors while delaying his service clock was a better move, but when a window of opportunity was opened this week by Mauer's heel injury, Ramos was called up and he has taken full advantage, getting his major-league career off to a historic start by collecting seven hits in his first two games prior to an 0-for-3 effort last night. Ramos looks mature, polished and powerful -- a prototypical young backstop.

The early success has helped the Twins offense keep churning in Mauer's absence and has gotten many local fans downright giddy. Already I've seen many people pondering ways that Ramos can stick long-term with a team that already employs the game's best catcher.

However, the young Venezuelan's fate was sealed the day Mauer signed his whopping eight-year extension. In order to maximize their asset, the Twins will have to trade Ramos at some point.

I've seen many folks build hypothetical scenarios in which Mauer and Ramos can coexist on the roster. On the TwinsCentric blog yesterday, Seth Stohs laid out a plan that would have Ramos catching about 50 times a year and serving as designated hitter much of the time when not behind the plate. Others have proposed similar part-time playing alignments, while some have even suggested that the Twins ultimately make room for the young slugger by shifting Mauer -- or even Ramos -- to third base.

Let's work through these options systematically.

First, let's just throw out the idea of Ramos moving to third base. That's not going to happen. Because it can be discussed as a realistic option for Mauer, many people seem to have the perception that any catcher can easily be shifted to third base. That's not the case. With his big frame and strong arm, Ramos is perfectly built to catch, but he's slower than molasses, lacking the quickness and athleticism needed to man the hot corner. Throughout his minor-league career, Ramos has played catcher almost exclusively despite the Twins having Mauer entrenched. There's a reason for that: Catcher is Ramos' natural position and it's not going to change.

Aside from his not being athletically equipped to play the position defensively, a move to third would drastically lower Ramos' overall value. Even if he could field the position adequately, he'd almost certainly be far worse there than he is at his natural position of catcher, changing his defense from a strength to a liability. His bat also wouldn't play very well at third, because while some folks are mesmerized by his hot start with the Twins, it can't be forgotten that he's registered a relatively modest .288/.336/.441 hitting line with only 34 home runs in 302 minor-league games. Now, he's been young for every level coming up and it's hardly a stretch to think he's capable of improving on that line as a big-leaguer -- particularly after seeing him launch balls all over the place in his first few games -- but Ramos doesn't possess an elite bat that absolutely must be in the lineup. He's a great-hitting catcher, falling in the Bengie Molina mold.

It's for that same reason that giving Ramos significant time at designated hitter, as Seth suggested, is not a legitimate option. Nor is shifting him to first base, which is the only other defensive position he'd likely be able to handle well. Ramos hits very well for a catcher but there's no reason to think he's a strong enough hitter to be an asset at first base or DH.

The only scenario in which keeping Ramos long-term makes sense is if Mauer is moved to third base. Unlike Ramos, Mauer possesses the athleticism and offensive aptitude to make such a move palatable. But that's a played-out debate; Mauer is an elite player and much of his value is derived from his ability to play the catcher position at a Gold Glove caliber level. The Twins shouldn't even be thinking about moving Mauer out from behind the plate for several years.

Ramos is valuable because he's a great young defensive catcher with pop. Those are hard to find around the league. But unfortunately the Twins are set at catcher for the foreseeable future and -- as I've outlined above -- the organization will be lessening the value of a great asset if they try to fool around with switching Ramos' position.

While keeping Ramos around as a backup who can fill in for Mauer and DH against lefties occasionally would be a nice luxury, this team has other legitimate holes that need to be filled going forward and Ramos is their best chit to accomplish that. The dearth of great catchers around the league makes Ramos a very enticing piece, and if he's smart Bill Smith will start gauging interest as the deadline nears from teams that have organizational strengths at second base, third base and starting pitcher.

It's rare that a prospect as promising as Ramos is expendable, but for the Twins, he is. He has the look of a guy who should be catching full-time in this league and the Twins already have their catcher entrenched until Ramos is past 30.

Simply put, Ramos is more valuable to most other teams around the league than he is to the Twins. For that reason, trading him -- whether at the deadline this year or after the season -- is essentially a no-brainer.

24 comments:

SethSpeaks said...

Excellent analysis, and to be fair, I'm not 100% against trading Ramos, but here are a couple of points to encourage debate:
1.) If you're going to trade a catcher with offensive pop and potentially great defense, you better get a great package in return. What would people expect in return for a talent like Ramos?
2.) Catcher, by definition and responsibility, is a demanding physical position. Trading Ramos means that if and when Mauer gets hurt, the catcher will be Jose Morales or Drew Butera. Ouch!
Just some food for thought.

John said...

Good write up. There's no question Ramos will be dealt- the question is more 'when' and 'for whom.' I think that mostly will depend on the circumstances, e.g., if the Twins need help at the deadline or can wait until the off-season.

neckrolls said...

I would argue that Denard Span's lengthy contract makes Ben Revere superfluous as well. Revere and Ramos should each be able to garner a 4-star prospect who's reached AAA already. 2B or LHP should be the priority. Or they could be bundled together as part of a package to acquire a 5-star guy or young big leaguer - someone of David Price's caliber.

(Not saying the Rays would want to deal Price, just that a package containing Ramos and Revere should net someone at least that good and inexpensive. Then again, with their sick depth at SP, maybe the Rays could part with one in order to get a cheap replacement for Carl Crawford and an upgrade at C. After the season, perhaps...)

Anonymous said...

I do agree that Ramos is worth more to another team and therefore should be traded for a similar skill/age player at a different position.

But one scenario that wasn't discussed is if Ramos were to catch about 50% of the games and be available as a pinch hit right handed power bat.

On Mauer's off days he could DH. Come playoff time, Ramos would then in theory just become a backup catcher.

This scenario only makes sense if Ramos doesn't further develop into a cut and dry starting catcher. This scenario has the one advantage of keeping Mauer fresh and another advantage of quality backup.

But I do agree it would be strange to do this with one of the leagues best defensive catchers. It would make more sense too if we didn't have Thome to DH.

Ian said...

I think with both Kubel and Cuddy gone in two years, the Twins aren't going to trade their best minor league power bat unless they are overwhelmed.

Jayson Stark reported that the Twins have no interest in moving Ramos, which is good. He's young. We have years to decide on what to do. Keep for now unless some insane offer comes down the road.

Milt on Tilt said...

There are three teams that I can think of off the top of my head that are in need of catcher due to lack of major or minor league talent. Rays, Mets, and Rockies. Something could be worked out with any of them. Wade Davis? Eric Young?.....the Mets suck.

People overrate their own prospects so much its sickening. Ramos, right now, is not an impact bat. Strictly as a hitter in 2010, Jose Morales is better than Ramos.

CapitalBabs said...

Nick, you should really catch JimCrikket's assesment of the same situation on Knuckleballs - see if you think the options he presents would fit into what you are saying.

Michael said...

Should be a no brainer, but won't be...

I know its intra-division but could Ramos be the center piece in a trade for Joakim Soria. Closer is a luxury and the Royals have a stop gap catcher with no logical replacement. The Twins could have insta-bullpen help and find a potential long-term replacement for Nathan. The Royals are a year or two away still and I believe that Soria's deal is out after next year.

Anonymous said...

what type of player do you think we could realistically get for him?

Nick N. said...

what type of player do you think we could realistically get for him?

Hard to speculate right now. Suffice to say that I think the Twins could get some really value back if Ramos continues to hit well, be it in the majors or back in Triple-A.

Milt on Tilt said...

I'm not a writer, but I like looking crap up. I looked at all the catching prospects that have made the BA 100 since 2000 and looked at their success. If you're at all interested like I was.

http://miltontilt.blogspot.com/2010/05/history-of-catching-prospects.html

Milt on Tilt said...

Based on what I researched, I would say a projection of 9 WAR for Ramos seems reasonable. So I would hope we get that in return.

Nick N. said...

Good read, Milt. Thanks for researching that.

Anonymous said...

If they trade Ramos I'd rather see them get another team's #1 or #2 prospect than a good player with big contract and minimal years.

In any case, they should probably not move him for a year or two anyways.

milt on tilt said...

more exactly, the WAR breakdown for the 14 that succeeded broke down something like 1.0/2.0/2.0/2.5/2.5/2.0 for the 6 cost controlled years. So more precise, we can project him to be worth 6.0 WAR under team control. Value in excess would be something more like 3 or 4 WAR.

prospects are overrated.

Isaac said...

The first thing I thought after his first couple games was, 'This is great! The Twins can trade this guy for something they really need at the deadline!' Good to see I'm not the only that thinks so.

Leslie said...

For Pete's sake, can we stop worrying about Ramos' future or annointing the kid when he had two good games. It's hard to judge him after a short sample. For all we know, he may be a bust. You remember Dave McCarty, Marty Cordova, Luis Rivas, and others. They were all going to be good after starting off well yet they became bust.

My point? Let's see how Ramos improves and get better as a player before we worry about these things.

Ramos is going to be in the minors. Let him continue to learn at his job.

He is not even a polished product.

Abe said...

I think Nick hit the nail on the head with this post. His value lies in the fact that he is a catcher. This team is built to win now and could benefit greatly by picking up another starter or another bullpen arm-- or a combination of both. Why not deal Ramos when he's young and when he has limited service time? Get the best value while he's a hot prospect. The simple fact is he's only valuable as a catcher and the club has one of the best hitting catchers ever in front of him. It's a no brainer.

One more thing, both here and on the TwinsCentric blog. Why is everyone assuming that Kubel and Cuddyer are gone in two years? I could see Cuddyer with Aaron Hicks coming up but why Kubel? He may be slumping this year but is coming off a monster year and is only 28.

Josh said...

The issue of what to get in return is the real question when considering trading Ramos.

If the Twins can get a legit INF prospect that's major-league ready now in return, then it may be worth considering. But what usually seems to come up is "closer", which would be a horrible idea. As we've seen with Rausch, closer is eminently replaceable, even if Giant John oft resembles Eddie Guardado is heart attack-inducing saves.

Unless the Twins can get a no-miss prospect that fill an everyday need on the roster for the future (3B, 2B, possibly SS, maybe a corner OF) they should hang on to Ramos.

The worst outcome would be to deal him for a reliever before the deadline. the 2nd worst outcome would be to deal him for a "veteran bat", a player in his mid-30's to fill in at 3B or OF and who will rapidly reach the decline phase of his career and still cost the twins millions.

I think it's unlikely he's dealt at the deadline, and I hope I'm right. After the season when we have a better idea of what our needs are is the time to consider it. That's when we'll know if we have to fill 2B again, whether or not Hardy is a long-term solution at SS, whether Delmon can play RF & hit consistently, and will be at a decision point on 3B. Ramos will still have huge value then and other clubs will be less able to try and put the screws to the club.

Anonymous said...

Very well written and you pretty much just said it. being a not terrible defensive catcher and a really good offensive catcher, he is on the top of other teams GM's lists. I think the Mets may make sense. Maybe trading Ruben Tejada would work. The Rockies would also be a nice fit. Possibly a trade involving EY Jr. and Christian Friedrich. And even the Rays. Possibly a trade netting the Twins Matt Moore or Reid Brignac. A lot of possibilities when it comes to a 22 year old power hitting catcher.

Ramius said...

I'd love to see Ramos and Revere(or Kubel) as the meat of a trade for a starter with whiffable pitches.

I LOVE our line-up this year and even our bullpen is sufficient sans Nathan(Mike Wuertz would be nice though), but I want another pitcher with lights-out stuff. Does he need to be an ace? No, but he has to have the ability to shut down the Yankees, even if its not on ace-like consistency.

I just don't like trotting any of our 2-5 guys against A.J. Burnett, Jamie Shields, or Cliff Lee, or Cole Hamels.

Nick, what pitchers do you think could be on the block come July? I'd love to get a 27 year old guy with a few years on the contract and a big, knee-busting curveball(cough, Marlins, cough).

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Dr. Truth said...

Our best bet would be trading Ramos for a below average closer - someone who has a track record of blown saves, lots of baserunners, average stuff, no postseason experience. Doesn't matter who, just dump Ramos at all costs.