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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cubans v. Hanley Ramirez.

Hanley Ramirez said all the right things at his introductory press conference with the Boston Red Sox yesterday, including his willingness to change fielding positions from shortstop to left field.  Ramirez even mentioned that he wants to be a positive influence in the clubhouse, which has been a substantive detraction on his value.  I think other teams will regret missing this relative bargain.  The contract is currently reported to be four years at $19, $22, $22, $22 million per year.  Yes, that's huge bucks but in the current market, it could be a great deal for Boston if Ramirez can get over 500 plate appearances (PA) per year and sustain the 132 OPS+ he had in 2014 for the Dodgers in 512 PA.  That 132 OPS+ is also his career number.  It's positive that Ramirez matched that even though he was 30 and offense generally has gone down in recent years.  Ramirez can still hit.

There are few, if any, bats available this off season comparable to that of Hanley Ramirez.  Some say that players now available from Cuba are the answer.  They are younger and, though unproven in the U.S., have more upside.  The question in this post: proven, older player v. unproven, younger player?  Where would you spend your money if you were say, the New York Yankees?

Brian Cashman is the general manager of the Yankees.  Is he planning some late talent grab or is he in suspended animation, unable to make the kinds of decisions needed in this fast moving signing period?  Does Cashman already have a secret deal in place for one of the generic Cubans?  Why did Cashman not act on the four recent Cuban defectors to enter the Major Baseball League (MBL)?  Has Cashman learned from that or is he seized with indecision?  Let's look at the four Cubans to come here since 2012 and then at the two who will arrive for next season and see how Hanley Ramirez compares.

Yoenis Cespedes: Low spending Oakland made the bold move of signing Cespedes Feb. 13, 2012. 
"July 31, 2014: Traded by the Oakland Athletics with 2015 competitive balance round B pick to the Boston Red Sox for Jonny GomesJon Lester and cash."; OF.

Yasiel Puig: 21 year old Puig was next and he looks like a real bargain now but back on June 29, 2012  neither the Red Sox or Yankees were willing to pay him; teammate of Ramirez on the Dodgers 2012-2014; dynamic, if erratic, all around player; OF.

Jose Abreu: White Sox signed Abreu October 29, 2013.  In his only White Sox season led American Conference in SLG (.581) and OPS+ (169); 1B.

Rusney Castillo: The Red Sox, after acquiring Cespedes at the trading deadline, finally signed a Cuban defector: Castillo August 23, 2014.  40 PA for Boston in 2014: 159 OPS+; OF.

Except for Puig, none of them was a kid when he first played in the MBL; Even Castillo was 26 when he first played in 2014.  Here are their rounded contract numbers as shown in baseball-reference.com:

Yoenis Cespedes10/18/198570210$6.5$8.5$10.5$10.5$36.0
Yasiel Puig12/7/199075235$2.7$2.7$2.7$6.2$7.2$8.2$9.2$38.9
Jose Abreu1/29/198775255$7.0$8.7$11.7$12.2$13.2$13.7$66.5
Rusney Castillo9/7/198768186$0.9$11.3$11.3$11.3$11.8$11.8$14.3$72.7
Hanley Ramirez12/23/198374225$15.0$15.5$16.0$19.8$22.8$22.8$22.8$22.0$156.7

Ramirez Red Sox money is shown in red.  I'm not sure about his 2019 "Vesting Option".

The conventional wisdom now is that Boston will trade Cespedes but who knows?  Maybe they will move him to right field and play both Cespedes and Ramirez.  The fielding of the Cubans is seemingly vague, especially before they arrive.  Abreu is a poor fielding first baseman and the others are outfielders.  Let's look at their batting using OPS+.

Yasiel Puig159145432640
Yoenis Cespedes139103110540574645
Jose Abreu169622
Rusney Castillo15940
Hanley Ramirez112189132272336512

The value of Cespedes has fallen.  In 2014 with Boston in 213 PA his OPS+ was only 100, league average.  Is that worth $10.5 million?  When people blindly urge that a team spend money to sign unproven players they need to consider if they are likely to acquire Cespedes or, Puig or Abreu.

Which brings us to the two current Cuban prospects: Yasmani Tomas (24) and Yoan Moncada (19).

Yasmani Tomas is expected to be the next in a growing line of Cuban players to make an immediate impact in the big leagues.
By TYLER KEPNER  The New York Times

The impact of that performance extended far beyond Chicago. Abreu was the latest, and best, example of a Cuban free agent making a quick transition to major league stardom at a reasonable price. In an industry awash with revenue — but always looking for bargains — the secret is out...

(Tomas) listed at 6 feet 1 and about 230


Wow, that seems simple.  Just sign him up.  But yesterday on the Brian Kenny show on MLB Network an "expert" described Tomas as "tremendous power, tremendous risk".

If you were paying about 80% of what Ramirez got from Boston, would you rather have Tomas who is supposed to be seven years younger?  If YOU were paying, not some billionaire owner?  If it was YOUR money, how would you spend it?

Yoan Moncada supposedly has the most upside and is much younger at 19.  He may be able to play second but not short, or in the outfield.  However, the MBL has plenty of convoluted rules that bewilder its team decision makers:

Yoan Moncada Is Affecting All of International Baseball
by Kiley McDaniel - November 19, 2014  fangraphs.com

The 30 clubs are having a hard time figuring out what MLB’s international intentions are.

I won't even try to summarize this mess.  Plow through it yourself.  Then ask yourself how much of YOUR own money you want to throw at people who have never set foot in the United States.

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