Alexei Ramirez went up and became the best shortstop in the AL in 2010, but he's been one of the best values in baseball for the last three seasons thanks to the 4-year, $4.4 million contract he signed coming out of Cuba. At the time, Alexei dug the guaranteed years and money--and probably was really down with the getting the hell out of Cuba thing--and the White Sox dug getting a player who could at the very least defend multiple positions and provide speed (it's like having two reserve players!) for the cost of a single reserve player.
That was how things started out, but since Alexei has begun his swift climb into defensive excellence, the clock has been ticking toward the day he would get paid. Not paid in the sense that he's pretty much set for life if he had the wherewithal to save and invest properly from Day 1, because Good God, that happened years ago. But paid in the sense that he's become one of the keystones of the franchise, and will soon demand compensation in tune with the amount of revenue he generates or he'll make the negotiation process unbearably unpleasant for everyone involved. That kind of paid.
If the saga of Scottie Pippen and the White Sox very own Scout of the
Year and former Bulls GM Jerry Krause taught us anything, it's that
while locking down a star player for a cheap long-term deal right before
they hit their prime is grand and astute, mining every last inch of his
prime while you pay him 1/5 of his market value is a pretty excellent
way of making sure he never re-signs, or tries to hold out, or in thes specific
case of Scottie Pippen and Jerry Krause; provoke him to pepper you with fat jokes literally every single time he sees you.
It's in that spirit, that the White Sox took the initiative and agreed to a 4-year, $32.5 million extension with Ramirez
with a club option for a 5th year at $10 million. The deal is in a
weird space right now, where the team has yet to confirm it, but as you
see with that link, it's being reported on the team website by Scott
Merkin....so...I'd uh...bank on it. It appears--but can't be confirmed
of course--that the contract will not take effect until 2012, meaning
Alexei will still play for the super cheap (you know, for baseball)
$2.75 million figure in 2011 per his original deal.
Whether Alexei is contracted through the next 5 years with an option for
the 6th, or 4 years with the option for a 5th, the Sox will still be
securing Ramirez for pretty much the remainder of his physical prime for
a combined average of $8.5 million a year. With the price of a single
win above replacement estimated at around $4.5 million right now and set
to only go up, Alexei could have a family vacation accidentally
diverted to the Island of Dr. Moreau, have his offensive DNA spliced
with that of Craig Grebeck and Mike Caruso, transforming him into the The
Little Cuban Slap-Missile of Hurt, and still be worth his contract for
his defense alone.
Ramirez could have been kept with the Sox via arbitration through 2013,
and there's a good chance they save money in those years that way, and
would save a lot of money if he flamed out somehow before free agency. But they're not doing that.
I'm more than ok with this. For one, betting against your players is
bad practice, and while hitting and offense is subject to slumps and
BABIP-induced droughts, Alexei's defensive value has little reason to
deteriorate beyond severe injury. Second, if all goes well, the Sox set
themselves up to save a lot on the years Ramirez would otherwise be
hitting free agency, and have set the deal just long enough that he
should be on the decline when this is over. If Paulie and AJ are any
sign, that'll be a time when the Sox may be trying to bring him back one
more time, and that could make him more affordable.
Finally, one of the ways the Sox have found themselves getting
contractual favors from old veterans in order to patch the roster
together is by being loyal, respectful, and fair to their players. Alexei
Ramirez was fantastic in 2010, and has more than earned a raise from
the contract he received when the team look a flyer on a raw,
string-bean shortstop from Cuba. He's one of the most valuable players
on the team, and should be treated as such. Maybe the amount of good it does for the Sox to operate this way in the long run is negligible, maybe it even hurts
them. But it makes it damn easy to cheer for a team that operates that
way, and I certainly won't be the one to criticize it.
Jim Margalus notices a trend in the lefty-righty splits with Sox right-handers (It's more interesting than that sounds)
Freddy Garcia finally made it to the big Yankee incentive-laden minor-league deal in the sky he always dreamed of. Shine on, you crazy sellout diamond.
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