Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Initially, it is important to congratulate Aramis Ramirez on reaching 2000 MLB games this week. Ramirez has been a stalwart of the NL Central since 1998 with Pirates, Cubs and Brewers. Ramirez ranks joint 78th all time with Lance Berkman in HR’s with 366.
Ramirez recently talked the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about his desire to keep playing beyond 2014, perhaps reaching 2500 appearances. It would require Ramirez to complete at least another three full MLB seasons. More likely four given his recent injury record.
Ramirez missed 70 games in 2013 and has already missed 20+ this season. The Brewers have a $14 million club option for 2015, with a $4 million buyout. The important questions to answer are: what value does this bring for the Crew? What in-house options are available? Are there any realistic options in free agency?
Essentially the Crew have a $10 million decision on Ramirez at the end of the season. They already have $40 million+ committed to Ryan Braun, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Carlos Gomez. In addition Rickie Weeks and Yovani Gallardo have team options for $11.5 and $13 million respectively. Weeks option is a player option, but he has zero chance of triggering the clause.
In keeping Ramirez, the Brewers get a 2014 All-Star. However, his .275/.324 BA/OBP are his lowest (aside from 2010) since 2003. Furthermore, it is unlikely the third baseman will play any more than 130 times for an NL team in 2015. Certainly he would be a good DH (who can fill in at third) for most AL sides.
Assuming the Brewers Front Office believe that Ramirez is too much of a risk with falling numbers and injury worries, what next?
Realistically, the Brewers released their best option to solve the problem. Juan Francisco has clubbed 15 HR’s in limited plate appearances for the Blue Jays, while his .521 slugging percentage far exceeds that of Ramirez. An added bonus, even with a decent increase at arbitration, Francisco is likely to earn under $2 million in 2015.
The Brewers third base depth chart is very thin, beyond first baseman Mark Reynolds comes utility man Elian Herrera. A useful tool for the Crew, but not an every day MLB player. Jason Rogers is frankly, not good enough yet to make the step up from AA Huntsville. All other options are too far away from being major league ready.
So, the farm system isn’t going to produce in the short term. What about availability in the free agent market?
The simple answer, not much! Only Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval are anywhere near the same standard as Ramirez and will most likely command high salaries. Headley, recently traded to the Yankees, currently commands $10.25 million and will be looking for a similar or higher offer. Frankly, Sandoval won’t end up in Milwaukee.
The Brewers therefore don’t have many options looking ahead to 2015. The farm system options are thin and the free agent market looks little better.
Assuming Ramirez avoids any further injuries in the remainder of 2014, I would expect the Brewers to exercise their option. It might be another $10 million, but there really isn’t an alternative unless a player becomes available in a trade. A lot of thinking for Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke.