There is just something about Ned Colletti and selfish, talented, frustrating, invigorating baseball players named Ramirez. The Los Angeles Dodgers general manager experienced the yin and yang of Manny Ramirez over two seasons, and somehow it didn't scare him off the trail of poisonous clubhouse presences.
So in comes Hanley Ramirez, who was determined by Miami Marlins ownership, among the most odious people in the game, to be too much of a cancer even for them. Ouch. That's like Bernie Madoff calling you greedy, Snooki calling you trashy, Graham Spanier calling you uncaring. When the Marlins decided over the last 24 hours that Hanley was persona non grata, Colletti wielded the power of the Dodgers' bank account and readied the vault of leftover RAMIREZ 99 jerseys to be restitched with the new guy's number.
Hanley Ramirez is now a Dodger, traded in the wee hours of Wednesday morning for 22-year-old starter Nate Eovaldi, minor league reliever Scott McGough and the Dodgers' agreement to pay the rest of Ramirez's salary this year as well as the final two years and $31.5 million remaining on his contract.
Make no mistake: This is a massive risk for Colletti on an enfant terrible whose baseball skills have receded, weight has increased and predilection for selfishness hasn't waned. It's not just that Ramirez doesn't hustle; Albert Pujols runs to first base like a Molina, and he's as hard a worker as there is. It's the perception among teammates, executives and scouts alike that Ramirez gives but not a fraction of a damn.
This isn't, then, as much a gamble on Hanley Ramirez as it is on Don Mattingly, his coaches, the 24 other Dodgers and the culture into which Ramirez will enter as he joins the team in St. Louis. Colletti believes the force of a winning team and a good manager can do what Joe Girardi, Fredi Gonzalez, Edwin Rodriguez, Jack McKeon and Ozzie Guillen couldn't.
After spending his early 20s as one of baseball's best players, a shortstop who could hit for power and steal bases, win a batting title and draw walks, Ramirez cratered during an injury-riddled 2011 season. His return this year came at a new position, third base, if not with new results: His .322 on-base percentage is even worse than last season's, and away from Marlins Park, he's hitting .187/.251/.363. Only Brendan Ryan's .180 average is worse among batters on the road.
Colletti ignored that in going after the big name to hit among Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in a Dodgers lineup otherwise populated by nonentities. Since the beginning of June, catcher A.J. Ellis is slugging .295. Bobby Abreu's slugging percentage over the same period of time: .290. If Colletti wanted to contend this year, he needed to do something.
And that, of course, is an important point: Is Colletti right to go for it this year, what with a popgun lineup, a 23-31 record since the team's searing start and a San Francisco Giants team with just as good pitching and a better lineup now 2½ games up in the standings? Well, there is an argument to be made that in a wide-open National League, where no team has distinguished itself the favorite, that going for it is indeed the prudent thing to do, especially when it cost only Ramirez's salary, pennies for new ownership and a guy in Eovaldi who projects at best as a No. 3-level starter.
With Ted Lilly's impending return, Rubby De La Rosa perhaps arriving back from Tommy John surgery by season's end and Allen Webster and Zach Lee poised to arrive within the next year or two, the pitching should be set for the present and future.
But. There's always a but with Colletti, always a reminder that his aggressiveness is his greatest asset and his starkest weakness. But: Adding someone who could disturb the great atmosphere Mattingly has cultivated is asking for managerial malleability. But: If the Dodgers can't catch the Giants, they may find themselves in a one-game playoff, their entire season essentially left to a coin flip. But: Colletti has made some really bad trades in the past looking to acquire veteran help. Carlos Santana for Casey Blake. James McDonald for Octavio Dotel. Edwin Jackson for Danys Baez.
Lest we not forget, of course, that Colletti orchestrated the masterstroke that was Manny Ramirez for Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris in 2008. Forget the re-signing of Manny, the steroid suspension or any of the shenanigans that devolved after his first two months with the Dodgers. During the Mannywood heyday, he hit almost .400, popped 17 home runs, slugged .743 and carried the Dodgers from a .500 team to a division winner.
That's all Ned Colletti wants, and it's difficult to fault him for that, however inelegant some of his past trades may be. He wants to remember the Hanley Ramirez who was on a Hall of Fame track, whose personality tics were ignored, or at least accepted, because of his technical brilliance.
The Dodgers plan on moving Ramirez back to shortstop while Dee Gordon recovers from a thumb injury, and whether that energizes him, or the thrill of a pennant race does the job, or being in a lineup with one of the game's best players incites the rediscovery of that in himself, Ramirez is at an important point in his career. He's 28. It's not too late to salvage his reputation, make the Marlins look foolish for dumping him and Colletti a genius for thieving him at his nadir.
It's Ramirez Time again in Los Angeles. They can only hope this one ends better than the first.
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