Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports mentioned recently that the Miami Marlins' recent discussion with the Boston Red Sox regarding a Carl Crawford / Hanley Ramirez trade indicates that the Marlins are interested in trading the struggling (and now infected-hand injured) former superstar. In his report, he mentioned that the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamonbacks, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, and Pittsburgh Pirates are among the teams interested in a shortstop or third baseman for the stretch run, but many of those teams may not be interested in handling Ramirez's contract.
But the contract remains the issue and therein lies the reason why the Marlins still can't trade Hanley Ramirez. Earlier in the offseason, when rumors swirled that Ramirez was unhappy about moving to third base, Rosenthal jumped to the conclusion that the Marlins should trade him. At the time, the Marlins could not have traded Ramirez because he was coming off his lowest career point, and it would have been ridiculous to send him off after such a poor season. This season, Ramirez has shown that some of his game is back, at least in terms of power, but he still has not shown that he has fully returned. The projections of his performance, as a result, are worse now than they were to start the season.
But Ramirez's contract remains the same, and that makes things difficult for the Marlins. Unless the Fish are willing to eat a significant amount of money, the club will likely not get enough of a return to be worth trading.No Trade Value
Hanley Ramirez is set to make $31.5 million over the next two seasons in the final years of his six-year, $72 million extension. Right now, he is projected to produce 1.4 Wins Above Replacement for the rest of the season (243 PA). For a full year, you would expect Ramirez to put up 3.8 WAR, but let us take a little more off of Ramirez because of defensive concerns. Assuming 3.5 WAR projected for 2013 and 2014, he would produce $41.7 million in free agent value while being paid $36.5 million for the remaining seasons. That yields a trade value of just over $5 million.
As we have seen in the last few days, $5 million in surplus value does not buy you much. The Marlins are unlikely to make a deal for a minor B-ranked player for Ramirez. The Marlins would want more of a return for Ramirez, a former elite player, MVP candidate, and franchise cornerstone. But with the way Ramirez has played, teams may not even see his value as the projections see it. He has spent parts of two seasons batting .245/.328/.405, with a sample equivalent to one season; it may be difficult for teams to buy that Ramirez is a .270/.350/.442 hitter. There is a very good chance that opposing teams see no trade value in Hanley Ramirez.
Paying For Value
As a result, for the Marlins to get prospect value or major leaguers in return, they would have to pay into the contract by sending money to the acquiring team. The Fish would presumably be able to do something like that given their newly-found stadium coffers, but would the Marlins be interested in doing this rather than holding onto Ramirez in the hopes of improvement?
I would be inclined, after the latest fan-hitting incident and subsequent injury, to say that the Marlins are getting increasingly frustrated with Ramirez's lack of performance. The ironic thing is that they are plenty happy with his effort, as Ramirez has shown a willingness to work hard in his move to third base. But because the team is underwhelmed by his play, they may be more willing to pay to ensure a better return.
Still, how much money would the Marlins have to invest to get top talent? We traded $15 million in value to get a top prospect like Jacob Turner who was struggling in Triple-A and the majors, and it would take a similar amount to get a lower-level top 100 pitching prospect. To get to that kind of trade value, the Fish would have to invest $10-20 million to pay for Ramirez's deal.
The Change of Scenery Deal
Akin to the rumored Carl Crawford / Ramirez deal, Ramirez could be sent in a deal that also involved another player with an unwieldy contract in a sort of "change of scenery" bad contract swap. The Marlins would take on a similarly poor deal with little or no trade value and send out Ramirez to see if they can salvage any current value with that money, as a prospects trade for Ramirez will certainly make the team worse in 2013 forward.
The problem with that sort of trade is finding the appropriate partner. It is surprisingly difficult to find players on "fair" contracts who teams do not want. Crawford was an interesting candidate, but his contract is too long and dangerous over Ramirez's to work. Ramirez's contract is unique in that trading it for a bad contract is wrong (he could easily match the value if he played a little better than this season) but finding a good contract in return would require money. In the end, I searched through the database of the highest-paid players in baseball and found few names that were intriguing among players who could match their contracts but were struggling at the moment*.
*Ironically, one name that came to mind was Josh Beckett, who is signed through 2014. Hah!
A Difficult Situation
I think if the Marlins are serious about trading Ramirez, they will need to pay at least a third of his contract to make any value back in return in terms of prospects. Any trade of Ramirez that is not a change of scenery deal with similar players will undoubtedly make the Marlins worse in 2013 as well, which should hurt their chances of competing slightly. In the end, unless the Fish are willing to invest more money to get rid of Ramirez and get a capable major leaguer, he may still be unable to be traded (maybe).