Every fantasy baseball player loves to brag about being the one who “discovered” the next big thing. You were the first to own Mike Trout in your home, keeper league? You’re a fantasy genius. Clayton Kershaw has been your guy since his rookie campaign? You’ve been walking tall since 2010. Heck, the person who grabbed Albert Pujols in the last round of their draft in 2001 is probably still resting on his laurels. It’s like winning a live final in DFS and having your photo taken with the big check. You don’t need to do it again, because that photo will mark your territory forever. In this little niche of a nerd community of ours, you will always be remembered for that moment.
For me, it was the spring of 2006. My home, keeper league used a blind-bid system and while everyone was doling out their draft bucks on the best available players and most highly-touted rookies, I threw down that sneaky $1 bid on the new starting shortstop of the Florida Marlins, Hanley Ramirez. Scouts raved about his talent, but when the Red Sox dealt him to another rebuilding Marlins team, he seemed to have lost his luster in the eyes of the fantasy community.
It was the best dollar I ever spent in fantasy as Ramirez batted .292 with 17 home runs and 51 stolen bases. Not only was he the fiercest bargain of the season, but now he was locked onto my team forever and ever. My league-mates tried desperately to trade for him, but to no avail. I knew I had a special talent here and, well, the opinions of my fantasy prowess grew significantly which, of course, always makes you feel good.
So who would have thought that, with how exciting the Red Sox lineup looks this season, I would be telling you to steer clear of Ramirez?
Well, there are a number of reasons:
Throughout the years, Ramirez’ shortstop eligibility made him one of the most valuable fantasy players in the game. Over the past few seasons, he’s lost his eligibility both at shortstop and in the outfield and is now considered a DH only in leagues that use a 20-games played minimum. If your league has a 15-game minimum or lower, you can use him at first base, but his declining power totals are replaceable and it’s not like he’s stealing bases anymore to offer even a slight boost in value.
Over the last five seasons, he’s appeared in more than 140 games just once and in two of those seasons, he saw fewer than 440 plate appearances. He’s dealt with a variety of injuries from his shoulder to his back to his foot, just to name a few and he just underwent offseason shoulder surgery. He’s playing games this spring but is still in the recovery stage and won’t be pushed. It seems highly unlikely that a 34-year old with habitual injury issues is going to suddenly show up and be able to play a full season. Players like him live on the 10-day DL nowadays.
Decline in Production
This obviously goes hand-in-hand with his health as he had a nice surge in 2016 when he appeared in 147 games, but he’s hit more than 25 home runs just once in the last eight seasons and he’s batted under .250 in two of the last three years with a rising strikeout rate. Again, there’s no more speed to factor in and his contact rates have declined steadily over the last four seasons. His hands just aren't as quick as they once were, the bat speed is lower and his swinging-strike rate has also increased steadily over those four seasons as well. In addition to that, we’ve witnessed a rapid decline against left-handed pitching. Hanley was always a solid hitter versus southpaws, as evidenced by his career slash line of .295/.376/.521, but last year posted a line of just .179/.293/.387 over 106 at-bats against them. Without a significant and quick turnaround, he becomes a serious candidate to be removed for a pinch-hitter late in games.
And here’s the big one – if Ramirez records 497 plate appearances this season, which means roughly 120 games, a $22M vesting option will kick in and the Red Sox are on the hook for the full amount. Given his age (34), his declining production and the youth movement we see in Boston right now, there’s no way the Sox are ever going to allow him to reach that number of plate appearances. They can’t and they won’t. With that being the case, we can easily surmise just how much playing time he’s actually going to see this season.
The cost to acquire Ramirez in drafts this season is not substantial, by any means. His ADP in both the Mock Draft Army and NFBC is well into the mid-300’s and I’ve seen plenty of 12 and 14-team leagues where he hasn’t even been drafted. It’s easy to fall back on a guy’s reputation and claim he could be a bounce-back candidate, especially with the way the rest of the Boston lineup looks, but there is no doubt in my mind, that your late-round draft picks would be better served looking for cheap speed, power upside, middle relievers with closer potential or even just a handful of starters you may be able to stream. The player pool is too rich with talent to go back to this well anymore. The Red Sox are going to be shutting it down this year and you should too.