The Detroit Tigers will continue their rebuild without star Miguel Cabrera. Does it make sense for them to sign free agent Hanley Ramirez as a fill-in?
Connecting the Detroit Tigers and Hanley Ramirez would not have made any sense for most of the last calendar year. The Tigers have jumped head-first into a full-scale rebuild, trading away veteran pieces and growing their farm system. Hanley Ramirez is a 34-year-old slugger who is past his prime and is in the middle of a four-year, $88 million dollar deal with the Red Sox.
Since the start of the season however, a few things have changed.
Number one: Hanley Ramirez was released by the Red Sox.
He is currently a free agent. Any team that signs him will only have to pay a pro-rated portion of the league minimum. For the Tigers, that would equal roughly $230,000 dollars, which is essentially nothing.
On the surface, Ramirez’s 2018 season doesn’t look all that great. He was slashing .254/.213/.395 with six home runs and four stolen bases before getting cut. His 91 wRC+ was the second lowest mark of his career, and his .141 ISO was the lowest since a half season in 2011.
However, Ramirez’s season is the tale of two halves. In March and April, Ramirez looked like his old self. On May 1, Ramirez was slashing .330/.400/.474 with a 140 wRC+, a 9.1% walk rate and a 40.3% hard hit rate. He was absolutely crushing the ball, and although his .392 BABIP was destined to decline, he was still on his way to having a nice bounce back year in Boston.
Things fell apart in May however, as Hanley only hit .163/.200/.300 with a lowly 28 wRC+. His walk rate plummeted to 4.7% and his hard hit rate crashed to 20.9%. He was hitting ground balls at an epically high 59.7% rate, with a line drive rate of only 4.5%.
To put it lightly, Ramirez was awful in May. That led to the Red Sox deciding to cut bait, with nearly $20 million still on the books.
Number two: Miguel Cabrera suffered a torn bicep and will miss the rest of the 2018 season.
The Tigers announced that John Hicks will take over regular duties at first base, with James McCann and Grayson Greiner splitting duty behind the dish. The Tigers have other options they could explore as well, including moving Nicholas Castellanos over to first base.
Detroit could certainly use this opportunity to get playing time for some of their younger players. Stewart is the team’s best hitting prospect, and getting him reps in the big leagues should be the team’s highest priority. However, they likely don’t want to move Castellanos mid-season (again) so they may wait until the end of the year to transition him to first.
That leaves an opportunity for a veteran stop-gap like Ramirez.
Why Adding Hanley Makes Sense
This is essentially a risk-free move by the Tigers. If Ramirez comes in and continues to flounder like he did in May, the team can cut bait and it will have cost them next to nothing. Creating an open roster spot should be easy, as Miggy will need to go on the 60-Day DL which opens a spot on the 40-man roster.
If Hanley is able to find that sweet spot that made him so dominant in March/April, the team could look to flip him at the trade deadline for prospects.
The Tigers have a relatively risk-free way to add a veteran with first base experience to their roster at almost no cost. Ramirez would have to want to sign with Detroit, which could certainly be a hang up. There’s also a concern about fit, as the last thing Detroit needs is a cancerous locker room presence.
If the Detroit Tigers don’t believe that will be an issue, and Hanley is interested in playing for the Tigers, this could be a nice one year rental.