Trades Of The Decade: Hanley Ramirez For Josh Beckett & Mike Lowell

The only sure thing the Marlins obtained on Thanksgiving Day 2005 was salary relief. Yes, they acquired Hanley Ramirez, Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia and Anibal Sanchez, but none of them were considered certainties. For the four players, the Marlins gave up Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota.

The Marlins had to shed payroll, but they weren't going to relinquish Beckett in a deal that didn't include a top prospect. Hanley Ramirez fit that description perfectly. Baseball America named Hanley Boston's top prospect every year from 2003-05 and they considered him one of the game's most promising players.

But Hanley hit a pedestrian .297/.352/.430 in the minors, never tallying more than eight homers in a season. So Baseball America's Jim Callis described him as "something of an enigma" at the time of the trade.

"He has the bat speed, raw power and pitch recognition to hit .300 with 20-plus homers per season," Callis wrote. "But he has yet to show the focus and preparation to get him there."

Beckett, meanwhile, had already graduated from top prospect status to become one of the game's best young pitchers. In his last season with the Marlins, Beckett, then 25, pitched to a 3.37 ERA in 29 starts, lighting the radar gun up with a fastball that helped him strike out nearly three times as many batters as he walked. It didn't hurt that he was named 2003 World Series MVP after pitching the Marlins past the Yankees.

Beckett had a history of blister problems, but the Texan still drew interest from a number of teams, including the Rangers. He was two years away from free agency, set to make $4-5MM in arbitration.

In just one season, Mike Lowell had become a major hindrance for the Marlins. After averaging 25 homers per season in the five years preceding 2005,  Lowell stopped hitting. He managed just a .236/.298/.360 line with just 8 homers in 150 games. He was due to earn a total of $18MM in 2006 and 2007, so the Marlins couldn't afford his contract 

The Red Sox, under Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley, could absorb it, so they took it on, insisting that the third baseman could revive his career.  Theo Epstein was on leave at the time of the deal.

"It's not that we had to take Mike," Lajoie told the Boston Herald. "It's that we wanted Mike.''

The Red Sox were onto something. Lowell has turned in four solid seasons with the club, hitting about 20 homers per season and never posting an OPS below .798. The former Gold Glover lost a considerable amount of range this year (according to UZR) after undergoing hip surgery last offseason.

Much to the dismay of Red Sox Nation, Beckett struggled throughout his first season in Boston, allowing 36 homers and posting an ERA over 5.00 for the first time in his career. But he's been effective and durable since and hasn't come close to matching that 5.01 ERA. Only a handful of pitchers have out-performed Beckett since his first season in Boston, even though he's been playing in the AL East.

When Beckett won 20 games and Lowell slugged .501 in 2007, the Red Sox won it all. That World Championship alone makes this deal worthwhile for the Red Sox, despite what they gave up.

Hanley is one of the game's best players now, but as Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe wrote at the time, he was far from a sure thing in 2005.

"What's the worst that can happen here?," Ryan wrote. "Hanley Ramirez turns out to be the next Barry Larkin or maybe even Derek Jeter?"

Four years later, Baseball-Reference lists Jeter as the most statistically comparable player to Ramirez (for his age) in baseball history. Hanley hasn't posted an OPS below .940 since his 2006 Rookie of the Year campaign and this year's NL batting champ has even become an average defender at shortstop, according to UZR.

Hanley wasn't even the only useful player the Marlins acquired. Control issues still trouble Sanchez, who's now 25, but he can strike people out and he pitched well this past season. It all came together for him when he no-hit the Diamondbacks in 2006.

Could the trade have worked out any better for the two clubs? The Marlins got the salary relief they needed and an elite shortstop to build around. Beckett and Lowell led the Red Sox to their second World Championship of the decade.

But that doesn't mean they wouldn't like Hanley back. Theo Epstein has tried to reacquire him before, so it's not hard to imagine a return to Boston.

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