Buyer beware: Tigers should not sign Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez Chicago Cubs Third base Detroit Tigers free agents

Aramis Ramirez's power numbers have steadily declined the last three years as he approaches his mid-30s.

Dear Dave – DON’T DO IT!

Lord knows I don’t wish to defend the merits of Brandon Inge, and in this article I’m not suggesting that the Tigers hand the third base job back to their fuzzy-faced little “love him or hate him” gnomish veteran.

But I do think GM Dave Dombrowski will be making a huge mistake if he signs Aramis Ramirez as a free agent this off-season.

Word from baseball’s winter meetings is that the Tigers are one of the clubs in pursuit of the slugging third baseman who has swung the lumber for the Chicago Cubs in recent years.

Ramirez is attracting attention from several teams because of his power numbers. He’s averaged 28 homers and just about 100 RBI’s in his eight seasons with the Cubbies. But there’s good reason to believe that Ramirez’s best seasons are well behind him.

In his prime, Ramirez was slugging above .550 regularly while batting .300 and hitting 30+ homers per season. That was what he did in his age 26-29 seasons, his first four full seasons as a member of the Cubs. It also didn’t hurt that ARam was playing in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field, where he has a .552 career slugging percentage and more than a third of his career homers. The pull-hitting right-hander is built for the Friendly Confines.

In coming to Comerica Park, an older Ramirez will not reach the seats nearly as often. In 2011, he hit 14 homers in Wrigley field. As a Tiger I’d expect he’d hit maybe eight to ten at home. Magglio Ordonez, who had similar power numbers before coming to Motown, never hit nearly as many dingers once he became a Tiger. Ramirez’s power numbers would plummet because of the deep fences at Comerica.

Age and the resulting decline in production is as equally a concern when evaluating Ramirez. His peak seasons are not the best way to judge what we’re going to get from Aramis. A better gauge would be the last three seasons. From 2009-2011, Ramirez has averaged 22 homers and 80 RBI, and most alarmingly, his extra-base hit total has dipped. In 2006-2008, he averaged 72 extra-base knocks per season, n his last three years that total has nosedived to 46. His slugging percentage the last three seasons is .491 – about 60 points off his previous three-year mark.

In 2012, Ramirez will turn 34, an age where historically sluggers start to lose much of their pop. Only the elite players can sustain greatness past their mid-30s (unless they’re on steroids).

As I’ve shown above, Ramirez has been declining for three years. Where will he be in 2012 and beyond? Ramirez and his agent are asking for a long-term deal of at least four years. The Tigers do not need to get strapped down by a fat contract to an aging slugger who may not be able to hit even 20 homers per year as a Tiger after year one. GM Dave just relieved the Tigers of hefty contracts that owed millions to Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, players in their mid to late 30s who aged past their usefulness.

And what about Inge? he’s no Ramirez with the bat, but he does have some value, albeit very specific value. He has a solid glove at the hot corner. Defensive value of corner infielders and outfielders usually outlasts offensive value. Would you be surprised to know that according to the current stat of choice for evaluating overall value, Ramirez and Inge aren’t that far apart?

From 2009-2011, using WAR (wins above replacement), which accounts for offense, defense, and baserunning, the sought-after free agent ARam had a mark of  3.8 total for those seasons. Inge comes in at 3.1 for the same period. Granted his value in 2011 was -0.6, but still, the three-year total doesn’t show that “recent Ramirez” will lead to that many more wins, if any.

According to WAR, Ramirez was valued at 6.8 when he has a bat in his hands and -3.0 in the field over the last three seasons. Inge was 1.7 as a hitter and 1.1 with the leather. Inge will be 35 in 2012, and he will cost about $10 million less than Ramirez. There are other options for the Tigers besides Inge, and I’d favor that route. But signing a mega free agent like Ramirez is not a wise decision.

His age, declining offensive production, the move from a small park to a big park, and his defensive liabilities make Aramis Ramirez a player the Tigers should pass on. Let someone else overpay him.

Message to Dombrowski: “Don’t sign ARam, no way, no how!”

 

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.