What Price Friendship?

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New Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said in a conference call that he would consider shifting Hanley Ramirez to another position. Presumably that position would be third base. This set off speculation—that has been advanced in the past—that a Ramirez shift would coincide with the Marlins making a big move on Ramirez’s close friend and current Mets free agent shortstop Jose Reyes.

A big move would have to include many, many zeroes on the check Reyes receives for signing the contract.

In prior years, the Marlins would never have been involved with trying to sign a marquee free agent such as Reyes; but with their new ballpark and new manager, it’s been said that they’re going to be heavily involved in bringing recognizable star players to Miami to try and win with payroll rather than finding players on the scrapheap.

I do believe it’s possible that Reyes is courted by the Marlins; I also believe Ramirez would move to another position to facilitate the signing.

Talent-wise, it’s a terrific move to have two dynamic, offensive forces on the left side of the infield. Reyes is a far better defender than Ramirez; Ramirez would be able to play third base.

Financially, one would assume the Marlins can do it.

Logistically, it might draw a number of fans who would ordinarily find other avenues of entertainment in Miami.

In practice, I don’t know if it would work.

Reyes’s injury history is what it is. If, in his contract year, he was injured twice with the recurrent hamstring woes that have plagued him forever, it’s a warning sign for when he’s assured of $120 million.

Regardless of whether the Marlins and others begin to decry the Mets medical protocol as substandard and imply that they’ll keep Reyes healthy, he’s continually gotten hurt with the same injuries—the Mets didn’t make mistakes every time with Reyes; it’s not an issue to be discounted amid a celebratory gala to introduce him as the newest team star.

Ramirez is another matter.

Apart from 2011, he’s been durable and ultra-productive; he’s also been a nuisance by using his status as the highest paid player; the star of the team; and the pet of owner Jeffrey Loria to be the alpha-male in the clubhouse and try to bully colleagues and ostensible superiors. When Andre Dawson has to venture down to talk to Ramirez about his attitude (and bring Tony Perez along with him to prevent him from strangling Ramirez), it’s not a good sign.

The friendship between the Reyes and Ramirez is legitimate and not a made-for-public-consumption golf outing between two players like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson who were said to detest one another; Ramirez is the godfather to Reyes’s daughter and they would undoubtedly love to play together if circumstances are right.

Before automatically believing said circumstances are “right”, the Marlins need to calculate all the probable eventualities.

If the Marlins sign Reyes to a contract worth $120 million, where does that leave Ramirez?

Hanley Ramirez is signed to a super-team friendly deal that, when he signed it, was worth $70 million through 2014. He’s set to make $15 million in 2012; $15.5 million in 2013; and $16 million in 2014.

A signed contract is relatively meaningless in today’s sports world and that agreement doesn’t mean he won’t want an extension commensurate with what Reyes would be paid; with what Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun received from the Rockies and Brewers respectively to essentially set in stone that they won’t suit up for another club for the rest of their careers.

Am I the only one who can picture Ramirez grinning happily at the Reyes press conference not only because his friend is joining the Marlins, but because he thinks he too is going to get a similar contract as a matter of course with the club’s new free-spending ways?

The Marlins aren’t exactly the warmest and fuzziest of organizations; they’re ruthless bordering on brutal and—Loria’s prodigal son or not—won’t be automatically predisposed to compensating Ramirez to keep him quiet and happy.

With Reyes, he wasn’t malingering through his injuries and this is both a positive and a negative; if he couldn’t stay on the field in his contract year when the talk of him making a Joe Mauer-style killing in free agency was at its height in June while he was scorching hot, what are the chances of him getting through a 6-7 year deal on his aging, fragile, meal-ticket legs without the requisite hamstring problems popping up again?

And with Ramirez, his attitude has always been questionable; he’s gotten away with transgressions because of the reasons elucidated above. If he walks up to Larry Beinfest, David Samson or Loria himself with wide eyes and an expectant nod regarding an extension on top of his current contract, they’re more likely to tell him to take a hike than they are to acquiesce to his demands.

That’s where things get dicey; that’s where things can blow apart before they’re completely constructed.

Hanley Ramirez’s demeanor has always tended more toward the Manny Ramirez than the Jose Reyes.

Manny was well-known for letting his displeasure with whatever it was that irritated Manny at that particular moment seep into his on-field play. He would not hustle; he’d throw tantrums; he’d try to force his employer’s hand. The Red Sox ignored him (while trying to dump him repeatedly) because he was one of the most productive players in the history of the sport and because they needed him. It was only when he was in the final year of his guaranteed deal and set to have his contract options exercised—and was outright demanding that they not do so—that the team said enough was enough; they were able to bring back a reasonably comparable bat in Jason Bay, and they finally traded him.

It all looks good now and will look better if the Marlins do pursue and get Reyes. They have Guillen, an established manager with a long-term deal who won’t be under and mandate to tolerate Ramirez’s act; they’ll be talented enough to make a run at the playoffs if Josh Johnson returns healthy. But if Ramirez thinks he’s being slighted, that close friendship could turn into jealousy and anger before spring training is over.

Players go where the money is, not where their friends are; and after the heady excitement from childhood of “imagine if we played together in the big leagues” wears off, all that remains is reality.

The reality is almost exclusively about money.

On paper, getting Reyes and making Ramirez a third baseman would be a brilliant strike; but they’d better think long and hard about the signing and potential reverberations before jumping in with both feet because the aftermath could be disastrous if it doesn’t go according to the blueprint.

And these things rarely go according to the blueprint.

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2 thoughts on “What Price Friendship?

    1. I’m not sure how it’s gonna go with Hanley and Guillen. Whenever I think an automatic head-butt session is on the way, it rarely comes to pass. Guillen might try the soft approach with him and it might work.

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