Commentary

Ramirez's value in flux with Brewers

Status of Ryan Braun could have major effect of newly acquired veteran third baseman

Updated: December 12, 2011, 5:17 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Well, if you're a Milwaukee Brewers fan, knowing your team might lose one corner infielder to free agency, at least Monday's news that the team signed another should register as a positive: Per ESPNChicago.com's Bruce Levine, the Brewers and Aramis Ramirez agreed on a three-year deal.

The problem: Ramirez's arrival probably significantly diminishes the chances that the Brewers will re-sign the other free-agent corner infielder, Prince Fielder.

The other problem: The 800-pound gorilla that might be in the room, that being the impending 50-game suspension facing Ryan Braun, due to his having tested possible for a performance-enhancing drug.

[+] EnlargeRamirez
AP Photo/Charles CherneyAramis Ramirez may end up being the centerpiece of the Brewers for a good chunk of 2012, depending on what happens with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.

But let's get to Ramirez first, shall we?

Ramirez provides the Brewers a substantial upgrade at third base from fellow former Cub Casey McGehee, who is coming off a miserable season in which he managed .223/.280/.346 numbers, those ranking fourth-, sixth- and ninth-worst among qualified hitters. Ramirez, by comparison, managed .306/.361/.510 rates, which ranked 14th, 35th and 25th in the majors. His batting average was actually seven points higher than Fielder's, and his slugging percentage was 56 points beneath that of Fielder, so while he's not an exact replacement, his addition helps pick up much of the slack.

But the problems facing Ramirez relate to his age -- he's now 33 -- and the loss of Chicago's Wrigley Field, which helped pad his past statistics. In spite of Ramirez's bounce-back 2011, injuries have become an increasing concern the past three years, including a two-month disabled list stint in 2009 for a dislocated shoulder, and a two-week stint for a thumb contusion in 2010. As he reaches his mid-to-late 30s, he might only become a greater risk for missed time.

Ramirez's Wrigley Field numbers were astonishing: .313/.380/.562 there since he joined the Cubs on July 23, 2003, including an average of one home run per 17.1 at-bats. Not once in any of his eight full seasons with the Cubs did he finish with lower than a .283 batting average or .838 OPS at Wrigley. To compare, in his road games he managed .277/.334/.501 rates and an average of one homer per 18.3 at-bats.

Granted, Wrigley Field's park factors vary wildly from year to year, making it difficult to call it "hitter friendly," and Milwaukee's Miller Park the past two seasons rated a neutral to somewhat hitter-friendly venue. But Ramirez seemed to enjoy a home-field advantage at Wrigley that he did not previously with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and changing teams could alter that.

Averaging Ramirez's 2004 to 2011 numbers, which results in a .297-28-96 stat line, isn't necessarily wise, and it's not unthinkable he might see his batting average slip into the .280s, and his homers to dip to 25 or fewer.

As for Ramirez's runs scored and RBIs, both Fielder's departure and, should his appeal fall short, Braun's suspension might have a noticeably adverse effect on either category. Braun was the Brewers' No. 3 hitter and managed the ninth-best on-base percentage (.397) among qualified hitters; Ramirez would suffer in terms of RBIs without someone so adept at getting on base hitting ahead of him.

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRyan Braun's 2012 value has suddenly become very murky.

I ranked Ramirez my No. 9 third baseman at the beginning of the offseason and 67th overall; I haven't changed his position ranking following his signing with the Brewers, but am less confident he'll finish higher on the 2012 Player Rater, and in fact have lowered him in the overall rankings to 79th.

What happens to Braun should his appeal be denied?

He was my No. 1 player overall in my initial rankings, and obviously would suffer a precipitous drop missing 50 games, or more than 30 percent of the season. While it's possible that Braun's numbers could suffer upon his return, let's not overlook that he's still 28 years old, in the prime of his career, one of the game's most prolific sluggers and there's no evidence yet that his performance during his first five big league seasons has been fueled largely by PEDs.

Certainly fantasy owners might speculate that they were, but as things stand, no one should be projecting his 2012 numbers based upon anything more than his merely missing 50 games -- a huge chunk of the upcoming season.

I'm not changing Braun's ranking until his appeal is heard, but to provide a window into my thinking should he be denied, he'd likely be dropped to about 50th overall, right between Matt Cain and Victor Martinez.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.