ARAMIS RAMIREZ, THIRD BASEMAN
|Born: June 25, 1978
Height: 6′ 1″
Signed: International Free Agent, 1994 (Pirates)
How Acquired: Trade (from Brewers for Yhonathan Barrios)
Country: Dominican Republic
Agent: Paul Kinzer
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Not only was Ramirez one of the three or four best players signed and developed by the Pirates after Barry Bonds, he was at the center of a remarkable amount of controversy in his relatively brief time in Pittsburgh. It’s ironic, then, that he’s likely to finish his career there.
Ramirez put up huge numbers as a minor leaguer and did so despite being very young for his levels and repeatedly skipping levels. He also showed excellent strike zone judgment. Bizarrely, though, neither the Pirates nor their fans ever seemed to realize what they had. Ramirez came along at a time when the team’s management had lost patience with building through the farm system and was openly professing a reluctance to play rookies. The Pittsburgh media fully bought into the idea that rookies were a bad thing and continually advocated the acquisition of veterans to block the team’s prospects. Ramirez also was never well received by the fans, who seemed to be set off by his occasional defensive lapses and his lack of outward emotion. Nevertheless, when he was given away in one of the most obvious salary dumps in baseball history (oddly, the team’s GM denied it was a salary dump while its managing partner openly admitted it was a salary dump), the fan base was justifiably furious.
Ramirez went on to become one of baseball’s most consistent power hitters with the Cubs and Brewers. He always had a very good eye at the plate, although he never drew a lot of walks. This was probably because he made very good contact for a power hitter, striking out 100 times only once, and even then just exactly 100. He’s had a modest platoon split over his career, with an OPS of .894 against LHPs and .820 against RHPs. He was helped quite a bit by Wrigley Field, as he has a .926 career OPS there compared to .836 overall. He wasn’t helped by Miller Park in Milwaukee, as he has just an .829 OPS there, although that’s partly due to the fact that, so far, he’s played his declining year there. His career OPS at PNC Park is just .767, with a slugging average of .446, well below his .494 career mark. That also is probably skewed a little, though, due to the fact that he played his earliest, struggling years there, as well as his injury-plagued 2002 season. Defense has never been his strong suit, but he’s generally been at least adequate or a little better. Going by UZR, he’s just a little below average for his career. He has below average range, decent hands and a very strong arm. He’s never run well at all.
After a year in the Dominican Summer League, the Pirates skipped Ramirez, who didn’t turn 18 until just after the short season leagues opened play, over the GCL and sent him to the New York-Penn League. He dominated there, then moved up to low A at the end of the season and played in the playoffs. The one negative was a propensity for errors, leading to an unsightly .891 fielding percentage. After the season, Baseball America rated him the 26th best prospect in baseball.
Ramirez essentially skipped another level and spent the year in high A. He hit for huge power for a player who didn’t turn 19 until halfway through the season. He also drove in 114 runs and posted an excellent BB:K ratio. He continue making errors in droves, with 39, resulting in a fielding percentage again below .900. BA rated him baseball’s 5th best prospect after the season.
The Pirates again skipped Ramirez over a level, sending him to AAA. He got off to a solid start; he didn’t hit for a lot of power, but he was still only 19. The Pirates were having trouble at third, though, having already tried Doug Strange and Freddy Garcia, and they called Ramirez up in late May, still a month short of his 20th birthday. Ramirez went hitless in his first 26 at-bats, but then began to hit well until he went down with a hamstring injury in early August. He returned to play sporadically in September.
After the Pirates collapsed late in the 1998 season, owner Kevin McClatchy openly blamed the poor finish on the presence of too many young players. From then until the long-overdue end of his time as the team’s managing partner, the Pirates remained paranoid about rookies. The consequence for Ramirez was that GM Cam Bonifay resolved to leave him in AAA for the entire 1999 season, whether it made sense to do so or not. Ramirez dominated the level, at least when opponents pitched to him; he had far more walks than strikeouts, remarkable for a 20-year-old power hitter. The Pirates, however, became fascinated with Ed Sprague, who followed a career-long pattern of having a strong first half. Sprague thankfully turned down Bonifay’s effort to sign him to a two-year extension, but even though Sprague stopped hitting entirely in the second half, the Pirates incredibly didn’t call Ramirez up until Sprague broke a finger in mid-September. Ramirez didn’t help his own cause by committing 42 errors in AAA, giving the Pirates a convenient excuse to leave him in AAA.
With Sprague gone, the Pirates were left with no other option at third besides Ramirez, although manager Gene Lamont did try unsuccessfully to talk immobile veteran Wil Cordero into playing third for the first time in his career. Lamont made no secret of his unhappiness at having to play Ramirez and Chad Hermansen, and did his best to undermine both. He batted Ramirez at the bottom of the order, pinch hit for him in the middle of games, and platooned him at times with sometime-Yankee mascot Luis Sojo. It took only until late April for Lamont to get his wish and see Ramirez shipped off to AAA. The complete failure of the team’s other 3B options led to Ramirez’ return in mid-June. Lamont announced he would only start Ramirez for a game or two, but Ramirez started hitting immediately and left Lamont with no choice but to continue playing him.
With Lamont finally gone, new manager Lloyd McClendon put Ramirez in the middle of the Pirates’ order and left him there. Ramirez responded with 112 RBIs, still the second best total of his career, and 34 HRs, the third best. These totals were especially impressive considering that PNC Park was his home field, as PNC is a terrible park for right-handed power hitters. Ramirez’ error total of 25 wasn’t good, but certainly wasn’t disastrous.
Ramirez’ season was wrecked by a mid-April incident in Milwaukee, when Ramirez charged the mound after being thrown at and ended up with an ankle sprain. The team’s new GM, Dave Littlefield, and McClendon were under intense pressure from the incompetent McClatchy to win immediately, so instead of putting Ramirez on the disabled list until he was healthy, they pushed him back into the lineup a little over two weeks later. Ramirez was visibly hampered by the ankle, often losing his balance when he swung and showing no mobility at all in the field, prompting opponents to bunt on him frequently. Ramirez’ swing became increasingly messed up and he struggled badly the rest of the year and on into the following year, even though he was healthy by then.
Ramirez gradually began regaining his stroke over the first several months of the season, but in late July he was sent to the Cubs in one of the worst trades in Pirates history. Not only did they get nothing of value in return, they included the still productive Kenny Lofton, who by himself was worth more than what they acquired, and they also threw in money. The trade resulted from McClatchy’s mismanagement of the team’s finances and was, by McClatchy’s own admission, forced by the team’s creditors. It was a bonanza for Ramirez, though. Freed from the Pirates’ incompetence and the negative attitude toward him stirred up by the Pittsburgh media, particularly Post-Gazette reporter Paul Meyer, Ramirez flourished in Chicago. He even fielded better there, with his error frequency immediately dropping.
Ramirez had probably his best season, driving in 103 runs; setting career highs in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS+; and finishing tenth in the NL MVP voting.
At the beginning of the season, the Cubs signed Ramirez to a contract extension running through 2008, with a mutual option for 2009. Ramirez, however, also got the right to void the remainder of the contract after the 2016 season. He had largely the same season as the year before, with the main difference being that he missed the last five weeks with a quad strain. He made his first All-Star team.
Ramirez had another big season, finishing with career highs in HRs and RBIs (119). Ramirez exercised his right to void his contract after the season, but he and the Cubs reached a five-year deal running through 2011, with a mutual option for 2012.
Ramirez remained very consistent at the plate, but the minor injuries started to accumulate. He missed time with a wrist injury, patellar tendinitis and another knee injury.
Ramirez continued his remarkable run of consistent seasons. For six years, from 2004 to 2009, his OPS+ was between 126 and 139. In 2008, he made the All-Star team for the second time and finished tenth in the MVP voting.
Ramirez hit much like always, but he missed time early in the season with back and calf injuries, then went out from early May through early July with a dislocated shoulder. He continued to miss time with shoulder problems periodically after returning.
Ramirez had an injury-plagued off-year. He repeatedly missed time with a recurring thumb injury, as well as rib and quad injuries.
Ramirez stayed mostly healthy and bounced back to his previous levels. After the season, the Cubs exercised their part of the mutual option for 2012, but Ramirez declined his and ultimately signed a three-year deal with Milwaukee, with a mutual option for 2015.
Ramirez had a big year for the Brewers, driving in 105 runs and finishing a career-best ninth in the MVP balloting. He even set a career high for steals, with nearly a third of his career total in one year.
Due to repeated problems with his left knee, Ramirez played only a little more than half the season. His power declined, due either to the knee injuries or age, or both.
Ramirez mostly stayed healthy, but he missed some brief periods with knee, elbow and hamstring injuries. His power continued to drop off, especially in the season’s second half, when he had only four HRs in 63 games. After the season, he and the Brewers exercised the mutual option for 2015.
Ramirez had a slow first half, posting an OPS of just .593 in April and .642 in June. He got hot in July, though, putting up a .922 OPS through July 23, when the Brewers traded him to the Pirates. With Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer both out with injuries, and with the team carrying an alarming number of players who belonged in AAA, the Pirates were desperate for a decent hitter to play either short or third (with Jung-Ho Kang taking the remaining position). The answer was Ramirez, whom they acquired for little cost. Unfortunately, his hot stretch before the trade didn’t continue and he hit right in line with his overall pre-trade numbers, especially when you take into account PNC Park’s tendency to stifle right-handed power. Although he didn’t hit very well, Clint Hurdle insisted on keeping him in the cleanup spot. The result was a GIDP rate of 22%, nearly double the NL average, which probably encouraged opponents to pitch around Andrew McCutchen. Ramirez didn’t play very well defensively at third. The Pirates tried him at first in five games, four of them starts. It was the first time in his career, majors or minors, he’d played anywhere other than third except for one brief stint at short in the late innings of a AAA game in 1998. Not surprisingly, Ramirez didn’t look any better at first than Pedro Alvarez.
Ramirez has said he’ll retire after the season. It’d be a good time for him to do so, as he’s declined steadily over the last several years due to age and frequent, nagging injuries. This way he’ll at least go out after a passable season.
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 1995
MLB Debut: 5/26/1998
MLB FA Eligible: 2015
Added to 40-Man: 5/26/1998
Options Remaining: 0
MLB Service Time: 15.111
|August 31, 1994: Signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent.
May 26, 1998: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
July 23, 2003: Traded by the Pittsburgh with Kenny Lofton and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill and Matt Bruback.
October 31, 2006: Became a free agent.
November 12, 2006: Signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs.
October 31, 2011: Became a free agent.
December 13, 2011: Signed as a free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers.
July 23, 2015: Traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Yhonathan Barrios.