Miami Marlins Season Preview: Zimmerman Extension Could Mirror Future Ramirez Extension

If all goes according to plan and Hanley Ramirez bounces back after a horrid 2011, we may have to consider seeing this smiling face for a long time. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

This may not necessarily currently pertain to the Miami Marlins, but it does pertain to a division rival. Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals recently just signed a six-year contract extension worth $100 million that could go up to $150 million if a seventh year option is picked up (it's complicated). This should lock in Zimmerman long-term with the team that drafted him and the one that he served while becoming a star player in the majors.

Why do I bring up Zimmerman's deal, other than the fact that us Marlins fans will have to deal with him for the next six or seven seasons? Well, the extension he received is an interesting comparison case if you wanted to consider an extension for the Marlins' own third baseman, Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez, of course, has only recently moved to the position, but there are quite a few similarities between the two players.

- Both players played their rookie seasons in 2006, meaning they have both spent the same amount of time in the majors.

- Both players are of similar age, with Ramirez one year older than Zimmerman at age 28.

- Depending on which system you ask, the two players have played surprisingly similarly over their careers. Zimmerman lags behind Ramirez in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement by just one WAR, while two other WAR-type metrics (the Baseball-Reference version and Baseball Prospectus's WARP) have Zimmerman rated as eight or so wins lower due to their discrepancy with his widely-regarded Gold Glove defense.

- Zimmerman had two seasons remaining in a five-year, $45 million extension initially signed in 2009. Ramirez signed a six-year extension in 2009 that will take him through 2014, meaning he will have two years left in his deal next year.

Even if you do not buy the idea that Zimmerman is one of the best defenders at third base (FanGraphs's UZR and the eyes of the Fans and scouts say yes, while other systems say no), you have to admit that, all of a sudden, Ramirez and Zimmerman have found themselves in similar situations in 2012. Zimmerman received a deal that will pay him $14 million annually after 2013 through 2018 and $18 million in 2019 and 2020 if his final option is picked up. I have discussed before what Ramirez should get in the future if he were to be extended, but things have changed and he has moved positions permanently since the linked 2010 discussion. What would a future Ramirez extension look like?

The Old Versus the New

The old Ramirez, back in 2010, was a star in the making. The old Ramirez had many a season of five-win play for which to look forward in the next six or seven seasons. The old Ramirez of 2010 going forward was expected to be a seven-win player heading into that age-26 season. Also, that old Ramirez was a shortstop, and I said that this would play a role in what Ramirez's value would be in the future, though I downplayed the significance.

However, I’m not concerned about this either. Right now, Ramirez has shown that he is at worst a -5 run shortstop during a season. With his athletic skillset, I don’t see how a transition to either position would really hurt his status too much. Any loss in positional adjustment (around five runs a season to either position) would likely be offset by his improved defense at the position.

Now, I thought that the position move may come years down the road, like perhaps when he was in his 30's. But because of the arrival of Jose Reyes, that position move has come sooner, and the Marlins would definitely need to account for that in any future extension; Ramirez is not a shortstop any longer, and he will not be a shortstop for what is likely the rest of his career.

But perhaps more importantly than that, the biggest difference between the Ramirez of old and the one of today is a matter of production. As I mentioned, once upon a time, Ramirez was projected to be a seven-win player in 2010. This year, the Fans over at FanGraphs are projecting a 5.1 fWAR year, and I myself estimated a five-win season earlier this offseason. Needless to say, the move of position and the two-year sharp decline in offensive production from his 2007 to 2009 peak have made projecting Ramirez way into the future back in 2010 essentially meaningless. Indeed, no one could have predicted how poorly his stock would fall in the last two seasons, and now that five-year, $127 million extension that I proposed would carry Ramirez from 2015 to 2019 as a Marlin is unlikely to happen.

The New Ramirez and the Zimmerman Comp

The interesting thing is that, because Ramirez has fallen so far since 2010, he has actually fallen right in line with Ryan Zimmerman. Assuming the Nats signed Zimmerman believing he is a bona fide Gold Glove defender at third base, PECOTA projects the two players to be very similar in 2012, with WARP totals close to five wins. Presuming that they are similar players in 2012, where can we expect Ramirez to be in 2015?

Again, we are looking a long ways ahead, but the Nationals had to do it in order to lock in Zimmerman until age 34. We previously proposed that we would sign Ramirez to an extension that locked him in until his age 35 campaign. The initial offer would have been a five-year extension, so there is no reason to consider anything differently. We just have to change where we expect Ramirez to be by that point. If you take a look at the assumptions we were making before regarding how free agent prices would increase, we had teams paying $5.1 million per win. Let's up the ante and call it $5.3 million per win to make things scale up a bit faster. That will be our starting dollars per win value, and it will go up per season at a decent pace.

How many wins will Ramirez be worth in the next few years? In the previous article, I assumed Ramirez would stay at his level for a little while before declining. Let's make a similar assumption here and start him at around 4.0 WAR in 2015. This assumes Ramirez stays even in the next two years and drops half a win a season after that. Let's look at a table to see what his value should look like from 2015 to 2019.

Year Proj WAR $/WAR ($M) Salary ($M)
2015 4.0 5.3 21.2
2016 3.5 5.6 19.6
2017 3.0 6.0 18.0
2018 2.5 6.4 16.0
2019 2.0 6.8 13.6

If you take these values as decent estimates for future markets (and remember, these are a long time from now), you would be looking at a five-year extension worth $88.4 million. Given that Zimmerman is earning $100 million in six years, this actually earns Ramirez a little bit more than his average annual value per year. It also earns almost exactly what Jose Reyes earns on a per-season basis in his six-year, $104 million extension that conveniently takes him through his age 34 season. In other words, we would be evaluating Ramirez as somewhat similar to Reyes over their early 30's, and this assumption does not sound completely out of whack.

All Depends on 2012

Zimmerman earned his extension with two years (2012 and 2013) left in his previous deal. Once Ramirez completes the 2012 campaign, he too will have two years left in his deal before the Marlins would have to make a decision. Indeed, it is convenient that that timing occurs as such, because the Marlins and Ramirez both need 2012 to work out well for any side to consider a new contract in the future. This season is a make-or-break year for Ramirez in terms of his next deal; if he wants the contract extension that will get him even richer than before, he will need to play rejuvenated baseball. It does not have to be his peak work, but it needs to be close to 2010 levels for Marlins ownership to even consider a future with him. The team has long expressed a desire to keep "their superstar" Ramirez with the team for his entire career, and despite unofficial rumblings left and right about Ramirez's opinion, he too has publicly stated that he would love to be a Marlin for the rest of his career. But it all hinges on how well he performs in 2012.

If Ramirez can meet his projections in 2012, we could see the beginnings of a discussion for a multi-year extension beginning in 2013 or at the start of 2014. If he returns to superstardom in 2012, we will most certainly hear about extension talks after the season, and the Marlins will absolutely have a conundrum on their hands with regards to which players to prioritize heading into the next few seasons, given that Mike Stanton will be approaching arbitration. If Ramirez falters again in 2012, you can fully expect any talks of extending his time in south Florida to dissipate. The team would probably be happy to at least be rid of the difficult situation of deciding the players that should stay long-term on the Fish, and Ramirez would continue to lose a lot of future money if he struggles again this season. His play not only has ramifications in 2012, but also reverberates into the bank accounts of the future. This story may be the most interesting one of the 2012 Miami Marlins season.

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