One of the most exciting things about the buildup to a season is anticipating the debut of your favorite team's new acquisitions. This year, White Sox fans can look forward to seeing Jeff Samardzija and Melky Cabrera, among others, in a White Sox uniform for the first time (well, at least in meaningful games).
Last season was similar, as the debuts of Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton dominated the storylines in the weeks leading up to the season.
It's possible, because of this, that we've come to take Alexei Ramirez for granted.
Consider, since Ramirez debuted with the White Sox in 2008:
- He's eighth in total WAR (via FanGraphs) by a shortstop (ahead of such players as Elvis Andrus, Derek Jeter and Ian Desmond).
- He's hit more home runs than all but five shortstops.
- Defensively, he's fourth in the league in total UZR and fifth in DRS (via Baseball Reference).
Now, it's easy to pick and choose stats that make Ramirez stand out among his peers, but here's one more:
Since his debut in 2008, Ramirez has played more innings at shortstop than anyone but Yunel Escobar, Jimmy Rollins and J.J. Hardy.
The reason we take Ramirez for granted is simple: Throughout all the turnover on the Sox roster the past few offseasons, the one constant has been Ramirez. Take a look at the lineup from the day he made his debut:
Nick Swisher - LF
Orlando Cabrera - SS
Jim Thome - DH
Paul Konerko - 1B
Jermaine Dye - RF
Alexei Ramirez - CF
A.J. Pierzynski - C
Joe Crede - 3B
Juan Uribe - 2B
SP - Mark Buehrle
Seven years suddenly seems like an eternity ago, right? Nick Masset, Boone Logan and Octavio Dotel also pitched in relief that day, and Ramirez didn't even play shortstop!
Obviously, there is precedent for this. Konerko was on the roster as recently as last year, but while Konerko was on his last legs, Ramirez is considered a cornerstone of this lineup. Next to Abreu, there supposedly isn't a more "sure thing" in this lineup than Ramirez.
Or, at least, we hope.
Shortstop is one of the most important positions on the field and Ramirez has played in 632 of 648 possible games over the past four seasons. And he's performed during that time, if not like an All-Star, like a solid, above-average regular.
Last season, when he made his first All-Star team, he hit as many home runs as he had in the previous two seasons combined and posted a higher OPS+ (101) than any season since his rookie year (a year in which he played in only a career-low 136 games).
Entering 2015, the questions surrounding whether or not the White Sox can content for a playoff spot are, in some order:
- Can whoever becomes the starting second baseman hit and field well enough to not be an albatross?
- Can Avisail Garcia and Adam Eaton stay healthy and live up to their potential?
- Can the backend of the starting rotation give them a few hundred not-terrible innings?
- Can the bullpen not be a total dumpster fire?
There are others, but the point is that whether Ramirez can continue to do what he's been doing for the past seven years isn't among those questions. It probably isn't even among the top 25 questions surrounding this team.
Ramirez is 33 years old. To answer the titular question, no, he can't keep being an above-average shortstop forever. There's still hope for the position beyond Ramirez, of course. The White Sox hope Tim Anderson is the shortstop of the future.
But Ramirez is the shortstop of the past and present, and if the White Sox are going to contend in 2015, he's got to keep doing it for at least one more year.
Very few teams have had that type of consistency at such an important position, and it shouldn't be taken for granted.