Option decisions are among the first important moves made by teams in the offseason. While many are fairly easy to call, there are plenty of borderline examples.
The White Sox face a tough decision regarding veteran shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Chicago can choose either to employ Ramirez for $10MM next year, or instead pay him a $1MM buyout and allow him to hit the free agent market. In other words, it will cost the team $9MM if it wants another year of Ramirez.
Looking just at last year, this is not a difficult decision for GM Rick Hahn. Ramirez slashed just .249/.285/.357, put up his worst-ever running mark (a rather stunning -5.0 BsR), and was viewed as a sub-par defender by both UZR (-6.4) and DRS (-6). Things ticked up in the second half, but the overall output wasn’t pretty.
Then again, Ramirez has for the most part been a model of consistency over his eight years with the club. He has made 4,999 plate appearances and played an average of 153 games per season over 2008-2015, providing a stabilizing roster presence. Ramirez hasn’t generally been spectacular, but has been an average or better overall regular in most of those seasons.
The 2014 season, in fact, was one of Ramirez’s best. While his defensive metrics dropped, he still rated well there in terms of UZR and continued to generate good ratings on the basepaths. And the light-hitting infielder posted his second-best career batting line, an unexciting but useful .273/.305/.408.
Even if you value the track record, Ramirez is 34 years old and was never an outstanding player. Reasonable-but-optimistic expectations would be for roughly league-average performance in 2016. There was a time where that kind of outlook would make this an easy buyout situation. But ten million bucks doesn’t buy what it used to in the game of baseball.
Ramirez wouldn’t top any teams’ priority lists if he hits free agency, but he’d still get paid. That’s due in large part to the lack of supply on the shortstop market. After Ian Desmond and Asdrubal Cabrera, clubs looking for a plug-and-play veteran will be choosing between Ramirez and Jimmy Rollins, who had every bit as rough a season and is even older.
As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes writes in his preview of the White Sox’ offseason, the $9MM that Chicago would need to commit to Ramirez is perhaps “only slightly above” his value in free agency. There are some teams that would love to have a potentially average performer to replace sub-par platoons, while others might want a veteran to help ease the transition of younger, long-term options. To an extent, the White Sox look to fit both situations: the idea of a year with Tyler Saladino isn’t too appealing for a club that hopes to win, but clogging the position wouldn’t maximize the value of top prospect Tim Anderson.
All said, the salary is probably close enough to market that the White Sox should pay it if they want Ramirez back. If nothing else, it may be tough to re-sign him after cutting ties, and the risk is limited on a one-year commitment.
The other options for finding production at shortstop are limited. But there are alternatives, and bringing back the incumbent could represent a slight overpay with a fairly low ceiling.
So, we’ll put it to a vote (app users click here):