Oftentimes we as fans tend to judge a team’s offseason simply by their activity regarding transactions made. As has been the case with GM Alex Anthopoulos during his tenure in Atlanta, the Braves kicked off the current offseason with a bit of excitement (signing both Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton in November), but they’ve since stuck to only minor additions. Whether you agree with the team’s moves (or lack of) thus far, winter isn’t over yet, and given Atlanta’s current lower-than-usual payroll (roughly $112.750 million at the moment) and the glaring need for an impact bat, it’s perhaps foolish to just automatically assume Anthopoulos is done tinkering with this team.
However, considering slugger Marcell Ozuna is still not a Brave and the fact the MLBPA recently voted no for the universal DH in 2021, Atlanta may be forced to go a different route to acquire that bat they desperately need, which is why Cleveland’s third baseman Jose Ramirez has become such an attractive player.
A 28-year-old switch-hitter, Ramirez has been quite the bargain for Cleveland’s infield over the last several seasons, costing the team a whopping $50,000 back in 2009 (he signed as a 17-year-old). That minuscule investment has featured what has now developed into an incredible eight-year career so far for Ramirez, and over the last four seasons… he’s gotten even better.
Jose Ramirez per season averages
Since 2013: 124 wRC, 16 HR, 16 SB, 3.5 bWAR
Since 2017: 140 wRC+, 27 HR, 21 SB, 5.1 bWAR
Once an MLB regular, Ramirez already had the floor of a yearly All-Star, but in his prime, he has evolved into one of the top few players in the game… and still is — all with three more seasons of team control left. Players like this are rare, and at a salary of just $9.4 million in 2021, Cleveland would certainly need to be knocked off their feet to even remotely consider trading such a talent.
Do the Braves have what it takes to knock Cleveland off their feet?… why, sure! Should the Braves trade away such a package?… well, maybe not. But regardless, let’s look at a trade that just might work for both sides when considering each team’s needs.
What Cleveland needs
Having made the news the last couple of years for trading away some of their best big league talent, Cleveland (and a lot of MLB teams these days) is a club that appears more worried about cutting costs than anything else at the moment.
Although in terms of general baseball personnel, it has been rather notable just how terrible Cleveland’s outfield has been in recent years, and it certainly doesn’t look any better for the 2021 season, with essentially the entire outfield group consisting of mostly players you’ve probably never heard of. According to FanGraphs 2021 Depth Charts, Cleveland’s top outfielder this coming season is projected to be Josh Naylor, with just 0.8fWAR.
The next most glaring weakness is the team’s bullpen, made even worse by letting closer Brad Hand walk this offseason. Cleveland does wield a few high-ceiling relievers in Emmanuel Clase and James Karinchak, but other than those two, the bullpen is super light on guys that are expected to move the needle in 2021.
Lastly, you can easily make a case that several other positions in Cleveland need reinforcing. Obviously, replacing Lindor at short is going to be difficult (though Amed Rosario was meant to ease the pain a bit from that trade), and the first base situation — led by Jake Bauers — really isn’t ideal either.
But beyond specific roster needs, more than anything, Cleveland needs to keep that controllable talent coming in, which is why Ramirez is so damn valuable to them as a player. If the Braves, or any team for that matter, has any shot at landing the Cleveland infielder, the trade package must feature its fair share of young and cheap talent, because like Atlanta, Cleveland operates under the confinement of a mid-market type budget.
The trade package
I wish I could, but I shall not take credit for this mock trade package. That honor goes to the user name Baby_Yoda at the Baseball Trade Values site. I stumbled upon his/her package while I was looking at the site’s trade board. And while the proposal below probably isn’t perfect (and may not even be all that realistic), I believe it to be the best Ramirez trade package involving the Braves out there so far.
The thing is, everyone loves prospects, and Atlanta certainly has some great ones in their system. However, teams don’t just give away players like Ramirez, so no matter what the package going to Cleveland may be… it’s definitely going to sting.
Atlanta gets: Jose Ramirez, 3B
Breaking this down, you’ll see the Braves are sending Cleveland quite a prospect haul in Shea Langeliers and Drew Waters — two top-100 prospects in all of baseball, according to some in the industry.
You may think Langeliers is unnecessary for Cleveland, considering the team has Roberto Perez as the big league starter and Bo Naylor as the organization’s third-best prospect (the team’s future behind the plate). But the thinking here is that Langeliers would be more of a near-term option for Cleveland as Naylor’s projected ETA isn’t until 2023. The aforementioned needs listed above make the Waters inclusion logical, and we know either he or Pache will be required for such trade talks to even begin. By all accounts, it isn’t that much of a reach to expect Waters in the big leagues at some point in 2021, with a worst-case scenario being next season. If he’s what we think he’ll be, Waters has the potential to be a big leaguer capable of posting a high average at the plate and playing plus defense. Cleveland would love an MLB ready guy like that, especially one whose service-time clock hasn’t even started.
Joel De La Cruz, 31-years-old, is more filler material but could be a serviceable pitcher for Cleveland’s thin bullpen. The Braves, whose big-league relief core is one of the best in the sport, don’t really have a place for him, but for a team lacking much depth, a guy with a 4.21 ERA across 10 minor league seasons is a bit more valuable. Really you could insert any AAAA type pitcher here in place of De La Cruz, for the Braves are absolutely stacked in that particular area.
Lastly, Riley is included as the returning third basemen for Cleveland in this trade. It feels like Braves Country is torn in regards to Riley. Some think he just needs more ABs to become a star, and some believe he’s simply a bust. I’m sort of in-between. Yes, Riley is no doubt a super talented player, hence his early selection in the 2015 draft; however, I believe his poor discipline at the plate will more than likely always haunt him and, as a result, hold him back from being as great as we hoped for. And even if I’m selling Riley short a bit, he still needs to face more big-league pitching — a reality that could result in some awful stretches for him throughout the 2021 season as he’s slated to be the team’s regular at third. If I’m the Braves, why not skip the whole development phase of Riley learning to consistently hit major league pitchers and just go ahead and get a player like Ramirez, who’s not only above average at the plate but is also the better defender?
Just a quick note: Baseball Trade Values has this deal being essentially even, with Cleveland receiving a tad more value (which is appropriate given Ramirez is so good and so cheap for the next three seasons). Click here to see the actual proposal.
Why this trade probably won’t happen
We can fantasize all we want about trades such as these, but moves like this just don’t align with how Anthopoulos operates. For a good reason, Anthopoulos has clearly done his best to always ensure his transactions have a minimal negative impact on the team, and nothing screams that more than his love for the one-year contract.
Big trades, such as the proposal shown above, are obviously very risky. And for a team still trying to take that one extra step to become contenders, it’s probably worth it. But for Atlanta and their three-peat as NL East champs — winning games with a roster almost completely constructed from in-house talent — the potential risk could derail everything they have worked so hard to accomplish.
Whether a big trade like this is made or not, though, the Braves are still lacking the last move that makes it feel as if the team is complete. I’m not claiming that trading for Ramirez should be that move, but it sure could help.