DETROIT — The Indians made a somewhat aggressive move this spring when they locked up third baseman Jose Ramirez to a long-term deal. So far, it looks like a wise investment.
Ramirez, 24, entered 2017 having put together just one complete year at a high level in the big leagues. There’s risk with any long-term deal, but the Indians quickly pulled the trigger on investing in their young, utility-man-turned-third-baseman this spring, signing Ramirez to a five-year, $26 million deal that includes club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
The Indians won’t know how it all pans out for quite some time. But in the early going? Ramirez must have even the Indians brass chanting, “Jose, Jose, Jose” after each hit.
After Sunday’s game against the Tigers, Ramirez was hitting .325 with 15 home runs and 42 RBIs.
Ramirez hasn’t only repeated the success of 2016, he’s built on it, while becoming a key member in the Indians lineup. And, with the contract he signed in the spring, he’s clearly a core member of the Indians’ future.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see Jose’s continued progression, his development,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “It’s funny to think about that he’s now an All-Star caliber third baseman when he hadn’t played third base at all until he arrived at the major leagues. We’ve asked a lot of him and his career hasn’t been that smooth arc of a guy that just came to the major leagues, had success and ran with it.”
Ramirez’s five-year contract will keep him in the Indians infield for the foreseeable future, and it was also the type of deal on which this team has been built.
Ramirez joins Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco as players signed to similarly constructed deals — long-term contracts fairly early in their service time that include at least one club option and in many cases two.
The Indians have been aggressive with these deals, choosing to forgo arbitration to keep players in Cleveland for at least a year or two longer than if they would have hit free agency. With them, they have kept potential, long-term player costs down compared to the free-agent market while creating a stable contention window. The risk is guaranteeing more money sooner in a player’s career, before he’s established. It has been in these decisions to lock up certain, younger core players to long-term deals that has shaped the 2017 edition of the Indians and the club’s identity moving forward.
Ramirez’s contract could turn out to be a wise investment in the long run. In the short run, it’s already proving to be a solid return on investment. Different metrics have estimated the value of one WAR to be in the neighborhood of $7.5-$8 million. Ramirez this season, per Baseball Prospectus’ Cot’s Contracts, is making a base salary of $571,400 (his deal came with a $2 million signing bonus). He’ll make $2.428 million and $3.75 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively. In other words, the 4.8 WAR he had last season and the 3.0 WAR he’s already put up this season have created a significant bargain compared to his open market value.
Ramirez has also effectively served as lineup protection for Edwin Encarnacion. In a way, Indians manager Terry Francona has taken a page out of the Detroit Tigers’ playbook. Francona has often said that Victor Martinez is the “perfect” hitter to hit behind superstar Miguel Cabrera as a high-contact switch. Ramirez certainly fits that description. And now, the Indians have their own star protection.
“Victor and Jose, I put in the same boat, but Victor’s done it a lot longer,” Francona said. “It’s like the ultimate protection. If you walk somebody, it’s like [Martinez is] sitting there and Miggy’s on first and then you look up and he hits a ball through the hole or if you walk to get to second, he hits home runs [and] he has gap power. And he doesn’t strike out. He gives you a helluva at bat. There’s guys that maybe do more damage, but the consistency of his at-bats are incredible. That’s how I feel about Jose. He just hasn’t done it as long.”