This one comes to us from Jonah Keri of ESPN.com's Insider section in an article titled "5 AL trades that should happen." This one amounts to a salary dump from the Cubs and a chance to upgrade a few positions for the Tigers.
Aramis Ramirez could provide a big boost for one of baseball's most top-heavy lineups, making the Tigers potential favorites to win the AL Central. The Cubs' willingness to handle some of the financial burden could make or break any Ramirez deal. Adding Wood, who struggles at times to find the strike zone but improves the Tigers' bullpen depth, could further expedite a trade.
I'm actually going to leave out the Wood part. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me and doesn't change the key focal points of this story.
In Keri's proposal, the Tigers would give up Low-A reliever Bruce Rondon and Advanced-A third baseman Wade Gaynor in that trade.
Keri writes that the tricky part is Ramirez's contract. He is owed about $5 million the rest of this season, and a trade would allow a player option for $16 million next year. This comes in addition to paying Inge $6 million next season.
However, Ramirez is batting nearly .300 this year with a .346 on-base percentage, 21 doubles and 15 home runs. His batting average is slightly above his career norms, but everything else is in line with what he is normally expected to produce.
Off the top of my head, from a baseball standpoint it seems like a nice move to me. Prospect cost is low, upgrade to a position of need is great. In a half-season of baseball he's already 3 WAR better than Brandon Inge. It's a substantial upgrade.
So the questions that come to me in this trade are twofold. 1) Would Chicago (and Ramirez) really agree to it? 2) What effect does the cost of Ramirez in 2012 have on the Tigers?
Getting to question 1 first, here's what Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote recently:
The Cubs would love to make a deal for Ramirez, who is in the final year of his contract earning $14.64 million, with a $2 million buyout. Thing is, there aren’t many places to go. The hottest interest seems to be coming from the Angels.
I suspect the real "tricky part" in trading Ramirez isn't money like Keri said so much as it is Ramirez's no-trade clause. Even though the Tigers are in the hunt for a division, there is no guarantee that would happen.
It’s hard to gauge how intent Ramirez is on remaining with the Cubs. Up to this point, Ramirez has stated that he has no intentions of waiving his no trade clause because of his family. Though, we are coming up on the time when Ramirez’s children go back to school in the Dominican Republic. Meaning Ramirez may be more inclined to accept a trade now than he was earlier in the season. To show how important family is to Ramirez, he was asked to join the All-Star game as a replacement but declined the offer so he could go back to the Dominican and spend time with his family.
The Cubs blogger felt like Ramirez would ultimately waive his no-trade clause for the right situation, but also that the Cubs would expect to receive a better deal than the Derrek Lee offer a year ago. I'm not sure exactly who would have been traded in that deal, but I have to suspect they were a bit better than Rondon and Gaynor.
Rondon strikes out a lot of players in low-A and has a shiny ERA. He's also young. Gaynor is in his second full season of professional ball after college and stumbling a bit in Advanced-A. That shouldn't be a big deal, it seems to be a hard league to hit in. He hit well in the Low-A Midwest League and there aren't a lot of questions about whether he can hit the baseball. But neither of them have high ceilings at the MLB. They're not exciting players to trade for, and it would be difficult to sell to the fans.
So the answer to question 1 is that this would be a difficult deal, I believe. Not impossible, but difficult for Detroit.
Question 2: What effect would adding payroll have on 2012?
I'll work with the info from Tigerdog's FanPost:
Assuming the option for Jose Valverde is exercised, Detroit brings about $12.5 million off the payroll after this year when you account for arbitration raises and Justin Verlander's contract escalation. Assuming the option is not exercised, Detroit has about $22 million coming off the payroll. So $16 million is not an insignificant figure.
This offseason, Detroit will have to figure out who's the closer, what two players are starting pitchers, where to find a second baseman and whether they need a corner outfielder. Or two. We still don't know whether Brennan Boesch can produce for an entire season; we know Ryan Raburn can't. So that's not insignificant either.
So basically, if the Tigers were going to trade for a player with a contract that doesn't expire after 2011, they are probably better off filling one of the holes that will exist next year as well. Otherwise they'll need to increase their payroll a bit to fill all the holes.
So from Detroit's point of view, this isn't an open-and-shut case either.
It's an intriguing idea, but like most trade ideas probably isn't going to happen. Not in the form it was proposed and probably not in another form either.
Detroit will make a move or two. I don't doubt that. I just don't think they'll do the kind of move where they pick up on another team's salary dump.