Aramis Ramirez has long been one of the best third baseman in major league baseball. Since debuting with the Pirates in 1998, Ramirez has made three All-Star teams, won a Hank Aaron Award, a Silver Slugger, and has finished in the top 20 for MVP voting five times. Over his career, Ramirez has posted a .285/.344/.496 batting line with 369 home runs, ranking him ninth all-time for third baseman. Ramirez signed with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to the 2012 season, and has managed to continue posting solid numbers at the plate despite advancing in age. During his three seasons in Milwaukee, Aramis has managed a .291/.352/.482 batting line in 1512 plate appearances, batting mostly cleanup.
Ramirez has not been totally immune to the effects of father time, however. Since posting a 136 OPS+ on the strength of 80 extra base hits (including a league leading 50 doubles) in 2012, Ramirez has seen that number fall to 127 in 2013 and 109 last season. After playing in 149 games in 2012, Ramirez has managed only 225 games over the last two seasons due to knee and hamstring issues. His age was especially prevalent in the second half of last season, when Ramirez slugged only .392 with four home runs in 251 plate appearances. His second half Isolated Power mark of .110 was 61 points worse than his first half number, and 100 points lower than his career mark.
Coming into this season, which will reportedly be his last, it appears that the Brewers will be planning on giving the aging Ramirez regular rest during the season in order to attempt to keep their third baseman fresh throughout the season and avoid a similar second half power outage. Manager Ron Roenicke discussed the plans for Ramirez in an article with Todd Rosiak of the Journal-Sentinel. Regarding keeping Ramirez strong throughout the season, Roenicke said: “I think that’s really important…to try to get the most out of him and to make sure we keep him on the field and strong and productive. How do we do it? You adjust to it as the season goes on, but how do we originally come up with some kind of a plan to give him his days. Not when he needs it, but days to make sure that he stays strong.”
It appears as though the plan now is for Ramirez to receive one day off per week, with others built in along the way. Aramis acknowledges that this won’t be a “set in stone” schedule, however. “You go as your body feels”, Ramirez said. “I don’t want to say, ‘I want April 15 off.’ I don’t know how I’m going to feel that day. I’ll probably feel good and play. We’ll just take it as it comes.” Should Ramirez be in the midst of a hot hitting streak or if the Brewers’ are coming up against a tough left handed pitcher (against whom Ramirez posted a 1.024 OPS in 115 plate appearances last season), it would be difficult to take his bat out of the lineup. Ramirez and Roenicke are likely to meet prior to Opening Day, now just a week away, to iron out a “rest” plan.
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Though Ramirez has stated that his goal is to play in as many as 145 games this season, it seems that 120-130 starts would be more likely for the soon to be 37 year old Ramirez this season. With 1-2 days off per week, that could mean as many as 30-40 starts at third base will be up for grabs throughout the season.
The current favorite to take most of those starts for the Brewers’ would likely be Luis Jimenez, the infielder who was claimed on waivers from the Angels this past winter. Jimenez, 27, has long posted solid numbers in the minor leagues, but has failed to impress in limited chances in the bigs. Jimenez has garnered only 151 major league plate appearances since debuting in 2013, posting a .559 OPS while striking out over 27% of the time. However, Jimenez has posted a .295/.327/.485 in three seasons at AAA, hitting 41 home runs while also stealing 40 bases. Jimenez is considered a plus defender at third base, and has appeared at first and second base as well this spring. He has even expressed willingness to be the emergency catcher, if needed. Given his vesatility and the fact the he is out of options, Jimenez seems like the strongest candidate to begin the regular season as Ramirez’s primary backup, despite posting only a .623 OPS this spring.
Other candidates to backup Ramirez include Jason Rogers, Hector Gomez, and Elian Herrera. Rogers has outplayed Jimenez at the plate this spring, but is not as polished of a defender at the hot corner. He also has options remaining, which will likely work against him. Herrera is in camp as a non-roster invitee, and seems unlikely to make the team at this point as well. Hector Gomez is out of options, and figures to begin the season as the primary backup at shortstop and second base, though he is also able to play third. The Brewers have already optioned another infielder, Luis Sardinas, to AAA.