The White Sox declined the $10 million option on Alexei Ramirez on Wednesday, a somewhat surprising move that seems to create another black hole on an offense that already has question marks at second base, third base, catcher and right field.
Of course, it’s entirely possible we still see Ramirez in a White Sox uniform in 2016. The White Sox had to act on his option by Wednesday, and with other teams not able to come to terms with free agents untill Saturday, they may still wind up making a deal before everything is said and done.
Ramirez had the worst season of his career in 2015 and, as essentially a replacement-level player who will be 34 for basically the duration of the 2016 season, you can see why one would be skeptical that he can still contribute to a winning team. He’s also only a year removed from being an All-Star caliber shortstop and, quite frankly, there aren’t a ton of appealing options outside of Ramirez should the White Sox choose to go in another direction.
Let’s take a look at what they could do if they really are moving on from Ramirez:
Here’s a list of free-agent shortstops this offseason, via MLB Trade Rumors (ages in parentheses):
- Joaquin Arias (31)
- Mike Aviles (35)
- Clint Barmes (37)
- Willie Bloomquist (38)
- Asdrubal Cabrera (30)
- Ian Desmond (30)
- Stephen Drew (33)
- Alcides Escobar (29)*
- Cliff Pennington (32)
- Alexei Ramirez (34)
- Jimmy Rollins (37)
* - The Royals have a $5.25M club option on Escobar they will almost certainly exercise.
Yeesh. Raise your hand if you knew Clint Barmes and Willie Bloomquist were still in the league. Also, we're kinda pushing that definition since Bloomquist got DFA'd in July by the Mariners and hasn't played ball for a MLB organization since.
The only two names on that list that are even remotely appealing are Cabrera and Desmond. Cabrera had two subpar years after last being an above-average player in 2012, but rebounded a bit this past season with Tampa Bay, hitting .265/.315/.430 (the league average for shortstop was .256/.307/.375).
Cabrera has also been a below-average defensive shortstop throughout his career and will likely command more years and equal-to-more money than Ramirez, given his age. Do you really trust that Cabrera will be be a more valuable asset than Ramirez over the next year or two?
Desmond is a slightly more appealing option, given the fact that he was better than league average as recently as 2014. He was dreadful in 2015, however, despite still hitting 19 home runs (though it was his lowest total since 2011). He’ll likely be the most sought after free agent shortstop on the market, however, and will also likely command more money and more years than Ramirez. He’s intriguing, however, if you believe in his bounce back potential.
There are a few names out there that could potentially be available via trade this offseason, most notably the one across town in Starlin Castro. Perhaps the most volatile member of the Cubs since Alfonso Soriano left town, Castro will be 26 at the start of next season and, while he’s been through his share of ups and down over the last four seasons, still has the potential to help a winning club.
He’s also an extremely impatient hitter who plays shaky defense, so … oh, who am I kidding, he would fit in perfectly with this White Sox lineup.
Another name you’ve heard mention in trade talks is Milwaukee’s Jean Segura, who will also be 26 at the start of next season and is coming off of a pair of subpar seasons after bursting onto the scene in 2013. Segura is a great base thief but struggles to get on base, OBPing below .300 in each of the last two seasons.
A third name who has been mentioned in a number of trade talks over the last several years is Texas’ Elvis Andrus. A once-future star, Andrus has been pretty terrible for each of the last three years and is due $15 million each year for the next EIGHT seasons. No thanks.
An elephant in the room for trades and free agent signings is that while and Ian Desmond signing, or a Starlin Castro trade could provide decent value on their own, the Sox have multiple positions to address, limits on how much minor league talent they have to trade, and barring a change of heart from Jerry Reinsdorf, only so much room to drift over league median payroll. They could improve over Ramirez, but it needs to be weighed against how it will affect their pursuits at third base, or the search for major offensive upgrades, a better hitting catcher, or even rotation help.
There’s a certain group of White Sox Twitter that is ready to move on from Ramirez. That’s fine. I get it. But most of the discussion is that you can survive with a stop-gap for a year and then hand the position over to Tim Anderson at the start of the 2017 season. While the obvious problem with that is you’re then punting ANOTHER position for 2016 (a year you’re supposedly wanting to contend), the other issue is the assumption that Anderson will definitely be ready to take over the position in 2017.
While Anderson has a ton of potential, the idea that he will be ready by then is putting a lot of faith in a steady development path for a very raw prospect. Given that the White Sox have been so putrid at developing position players for the past decade-plus, taking things as slowly as possible is the best path to take, especially with someone who was playing junior college ball in 2013.
Secondly, if you’re really just looking for a “stop-gap” between now and when Anderson is ready, why not Ramirez? His cost doesn’t cripple your payroll and, given the other in-house options (are you really giving Tyler Saladino 600 at-bats in 2016?) betting on Ramirez bouncing back is clearly the best option.
Maybe the White Sox really are ready to move on from Ramirez. Again, that’s fine if there’s a replacement plan. Making a deal for someone like Castro or Segura is certainly an intriguing option if the cost is reasonable, but given the alternatives, Ramirez as the starting shortstop in 2016 is very likely still the best course of action.