Why Aramis Ramirez Is a Perfect Fit for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Exactly 12 years to the day after the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Aramis Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs for three underwhelming players and a bucket of batting practice balls, the Buccos brought their one-time star third baseman back home.
On Thursday, the Milwaukee Brewers sent Ramirez back to Pittsburgh in exchange for minor league pitcher Yhonathan Barrios.
Ramirez, now 37 years old, last played for the Pirates in the 2003 season, spending the first six years of his 18-year career there. During that time, he batted .284/.342/.473 with 65 of his 380 career home runs for the Pirates, and this year is hitting .247/.295/.430 with a .725 OPS, .311 weighted on base average (wOBA), a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 94 and an fWAR of 1.2. He has 11 homers and 42 RBI, but a nERD of only 0.03, meaning a lineup full of Ramirezes would only score 0.03 runs a game more than a lineup full of league-average players.
Ramirez is not the player he once was, but he's still productive. His offensive numbers have been trending lower as he's reached his late-30s, but among qualified National League third basemen with at least 250 plate appearances this year, Ramirez' isolated power (ISO) is sixth, his slugging percentage is seventh, and his 11 homers rank fifth.
The addition of Ramirez gives the Pirates another right-handed bat. And though he's not the thumper he used to be, he should provide some additional pop in the middle of the order.
Since his 1st MLB season in 1998, Aramis Ramirez has 4th-most HR (380) among players who have played at least 50% of their games at 3B— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 23, 2015
The plan is for Ramirez to hold down the hot corner until the injured Josh Harrison is ready to return from the disabled list. Since Harrison went on the DL, Jordy Mercer had stepped in to play shortstop with Jung Ho Kang at third and, while not a force at the plate (.242/.289/.315, wRC+ of 63 in 298 PAs), Mercer offered a lot on the run prevention side with above average defense. However, Mercer hit the 15-day disabled list himself this week with a lower leg contusion and MCL sprain. That left just Sean Rodriguez and Kang as less-than-viable everyday alternatives.
Pirates' third basemen have been middle-of-the-pack in the National League this year, with a wRC+ of 106 that ranks seventh and a wOBA of 322 that ranks eighth, but their injury situation increased the urgency ten-fold. Even when healthy, Harrison hadn't been terribly effective before he got hurt, batting .279/.313/.384 with a wOBA of .305 and a wRC+ of 95 and an fWAR of 0.7. Upon Harrison's return, Ramirez could take over as the everyday first baseman for Pedro Alvarez, who the Pirates have made very much available.
And that's where this move could really help the Pirates. On the season, Alvarez has a .231/.299/.414 slash line, with a .303 wOBA, 94 wRC+ and -0.4 fWAR. His struggles are the main reason why, as a team, Pittsburgh is dead last in fWAR from their first basemen this season (-1.6 fWAR). Their .223 batting average is also last, as is their collective wRC+ of 80 and wOBA of .283.
With a healthy Harrison in the lineup and Ramirez at first, the Pirates infield becomes better offensively. However, there's one small issue with moving Ramirez to first base. In 2,138 career games, he has never played a game at first base. This could conceivably be a problem.
The Pirates could also shift Harrison to right in order to help out the struggling Gregory Polanco, keeping Ramirez at his natural position.
But the Pirates really had no choice but to make this move, given their injury situation at third and the flexibility this brings to the lineup. And in welcoming back an old fan favorite like Ramirez, Pittsburgh made a savvy decision. He's a free agent after this year, meaning the team is not committed to him after 2015 (which they like), and the Pirates will reportedly only have to cover $3 million of his remaining salary for this year (which they really, really like).
As for Milwaukee's return, they get Barrios, a 23-year-old reliever who is a converted infielder. The kid can throw very hard, reaching 100 mph on his fastball. And while he has a good 2.68 ERA in 40.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year, he has struck out just 21 batters and walked 17. Still, it's a decent lottery ticket for Milwaukee, who traded a pending free agent to one of the few teams that had a need for him.
For Ramirez, it's a welcome return to Pittsburgh. When he left, all the Pirates did was lose. Now, they rarely ever do.