Ever since the Jose Reyes signing, the rumors have been circulating about the status of incumbent Miami Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez. It was well known that Ramirez would have to switch to third base if the Marlins acquired Reyes. When the team finally did acquire the free agent shortstop, there were multiple sources that described Ramirez as firmly against switching positions despite the team's attempts to improve the team.
With that, the rumors about trades began boiling. At the front of these trade rumors was ESPN's Buster Olney, who initially heard that the Marlins were looking to trade Ramirez after he asked for a restructured contract. After that rumor was shot down, Olney continued to say that the Marlins have talked to four teams about a Ramirez trade, though Joe Frisaro of MLB.com states that any talks were initiated by other teams and not by the Marlins.
So far, only Olney has asserted that the Marlins may be interested in trading Ramirez. This will not be a screed on Olney and his reporting, as the nature of rumor-mongering is such that occasionally you will get false reports. It is difficult to even tell whether those reports he is getting are right or wrong, as few people are privy to the information that is being discussed here anyway. But beyond whether the information is correct or not, there is also the idea of whether trading Ramirez is the correct move for the team or not.
Such a move would be a mistake for a variety of reasons.Moving Backwards
The Marlins' front office has a primary goal this season to attract a fan base that has been notoriously jaded for more than a decade. The Fish have never drawn much of a crowd despite two World Series-winning seasons. Here are the rankings of where the Marlins have finished in attendance since 2003:
The team's attendance since the World Series year of 2003 has been atrocious despite a club that has been more or less .500 since that time frame. Part of it is indeed the nature of the south Florida fan base and the location and circumstances that surrounded the old stadium, but part of it too is the product on the field; it seems Marlins fans will only turn out to see a team they can consistently think of as a winner.
While the club attempted to energize the Hispanic fan base by signing Reyes and attempting to nab Albert Pujols, it turns out the only real way to gain sustainable attendance increase is to win baseball games; stars have very little to do with long-term attendance gains. But the Marlins' moves this offseason were well-designed to do both; not only has the team attracted at least one marquee player in Reyes down to Miami, it has also made acquisitions that will assist the team in being a winning ballclub in the future. With the club still apparently interested in acquiring another piece, the Marlins may be heading to a significantly more successful 2012 season.
However, a Ramirez trade would be a step backwards and a move the franchise would not want to entertain if it can avoid it. Ramirez's stock may have fallen in the eyes of many Marlins fans with his recent on-field difficulties coupled with his ever-present attitude problems, but the majority of fans still would hope infinitely more for a realistic return to a Ramirez of old (even of 2010) than a traded Ramirez. With Ramirez manning third base for the next three seasons, the Marlins have their best chance of winning and possibly maintaining fan interest. Ultimately fans want to root for Ramirez because he has been an extremely successful baseball player in the past. A trade would not only likely downgrade the team's 2012 status, but also alienate fans who want to see a Marlins star bounce back rather than be sent away from pennies on the dollar.
Trade Value Never Lower
The reason why Ramirez's trade value is would be at pennies on the dollar is because of his recent struggles. It is no secret that the Ramirez of 2010 and 2011 was not the same guy from 2007 to 2009. For the last three years, Ramirez has hit .303/.380/.480, sneakily close to his career .306/.380/.506 mark. However, that disguises that his most recent season was his most disastrous and that the Marlins would be dealing Ramirez at his lowest value ever.
Never before has Ramirez been so negatively viewed by outside sources, yet never before would his trade value be as important as it would be for the Marlins this offseason were he to be dealt. For the Marlins to get their worth, they would have to be overwhelmed by a significant offer of at least the value of the old Miguel Cabrera trade, a deal that at least yielded two top-ten prospects for the Fish. But with the way his last two years have gone, it is difficult to imagine any team ponying up the sort of value for which the Fish would be looking.
The Marlins would want major league-ready talent plus strong prospects in return, but most teams probably would not offer such a return with the question mark on Ramirez so big. Ultimately, the club would be fishing for too much for the market to bear, but the market would not yield fair value for Ramirez. In addition, Ramirez holds less surplus value now than ever before because of his expensive contract, so the Fish would be wise to wait at least a season to reconsider a trade if they were so inclined. It would be in the Marlins' best interest to allow Ramirez to build value after a horrific season rather than pursue a discounted return now.
All the Leverage
But those above reasons would not completely preclude the Marlins from making a trade. Indeed, they would be (significant) speed bumps and deterrents, but they would not force the Marlins to keep Ramirez. But there is an even better question: what is forcing the Marlins' hand to trade Ramirez?
The answer to that would be nothing. Despite the rumors of "demands" by Ramirez and his agent regarding the recent position switching situation, the player in this case holds almost no leverage over the team. The reason behind this is that the Marlins have the threat of the Restricted or Suspended lists. As per Cots Contracts:
If a player violates the terms of his contract, his club may petition MLB to have him placed on the disqualified list, allowing the club to replace him on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters. For example, a player who reports but refuses to play, despite being otherwise able to do so, may be placed on the disqualified list. A player on the disqualified list is not paid and does not earn service time.
If Ramirez reports but refuses to play, the Marlins would have no recourse other than to place him on the disqualified list. The kicker would be that Ramirez would not receive pay, thus essentially releasing him while keeping him on the roster.
Of course, the Players' Association would challenge this, but I am not aware of anything they could do to reverse the ruling in favor of the player, as the player in this case would be under contract but refusing to work. The move would also be a hailstorm of controversy that the team would rather avoid by all means, but a trade would be just as controversial and difficult for fans to swallow. The idea is more of a threat than it is an actual option; Ramirez would certainly know that the Marlins could essentially "fire him" without allowing him to get another job, meaning the team loses nothing but goodwill by doing this.
There is a precedent of players not getting what they want in a trade demand due to a position change. Just last season, Michael Young of the Texas Rangers, the supposed "heart and soul" of that team, demanded a trade because the Rangers signed superior third baseman Adrian Beltre and were planning on shifting Young to a first baseman / DH role. Young made certain everyone knew that he was angry at the organization.
"I asked for a trade because I’ve been misled and manipulated and I’m sick of it," Young told FOXSports.com. ". . . I got pushed into a corner one too many times. I couldn’t take it any more."
What came of all that talk? Young was still a Ranger by the start of 2011, and he remains a Ranger today even in his more limited defensive role. Heck, he even got a ridiculous first-place MVP vote for his work.
Remember Alfonso Soriano when he was traded to the Washington Nationals? He refused to move to left field, and the Nationals threatened to place him on the disqualified list one season before he reached free agency. He eventually agreed and had an excellent season leading up to a big contract payoff with the Chicago Cubs. His quote following his first appearance was telling:
"I have no choice," he said. "I love the game. I hope I stay healthy and I hope they play me there every day because I love the game."
That is how Ramirez will likely feel once he agrees to move positions for the Marlins. Not only is it in the best interest for the Marlins to have Ramirez move positions rather than be traded, but the club has no reason to be pressured by a Ramirez trade demand. The team holds all the leverage over a player who refuses to play while under contract, so the Marlins would have all the power in this regard. And again, while going all the way with the threat of a disqualified list move would be disastrous from a public relations standpoint, it is unlikely that Ramirez would even contemplate going an entire season without receiving pay. In this particular case, his hands are ultimately tied, which is why the Marlins would ultimately not trade Ramirez because of this particular problem.