- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
The phone calls have already started rolling in down in South Florida. They go kind of like this:
"If you're thinking about trading your shortstop, we'd be happy to help you out with that."
Yeah, the vultures know when to hover, all right. All it takes is one messy moment in one baseball game, one video clip of a manager chewing out his star player, one sound bite of that star player dissing the manager back, and every general manager in North America is dialing the old cell phone.
Well, it's a waste of time. The teams that made those calls all know that now. The Florida Marlins aren't trading Hanley Ramirez. Not today. Not in July. Not in December. Not in any day, week or month between now and when their new ballpark opens in April 2012.
They might not be really ecstatic with their best player, but they're not crazy. You don't find guys like Hanley Ramirez leaning against every palm tree in South Beach. So cancel the moving vans. Stop dialing the phone. Not happening.
But here's what is happening:
This is now, officially, a defining moment in the career of one of the most talented players most of us have ever laid our eyeballs on.
He can either be scarred forever by this ugliness -- stamped for the rest of his career as a guy who doesn't hustle, doesn't care, doesn't get it -- or he can use it for fuel.
He can still help himself. He can still fix this. Ramirez can still be everything his team -- and his sport -- needs him to be. But to do that, here's the lesson he needs to learn:
He can't walk around thinking he's one of the two or three best players in baseball until he understands something important.
Every game matters. Every inning matters. Every at-bat matters. Every ground ball, every throw to first, every play that comes his way -- they all matter.
But if you watch Ramirez play enough, it becomes clear that he never got that memo. And that is what got him in all this trouble this week. Not one play. Not one benching. Not one unfortunate moment in time. It's the culmination of too many plays, too many moments that got him into this mess.
"It's a shame, but Hanley frustrates the guys on that team," one of his ex-teammates told Rumblings, "because everyone knows how much talent he has. Everyone has seen how great he can be out there. But then they also see the times where he just kind of gets nonchalant. It seems like he can turn the switch on any time he wants to. But he doesn't always turn it on.
"I'll give you an example," the ex-teammate went on. "We'd get on him all the time when we'd go play in New York. When he gets matched up to play against Jose Reyes, that dude gets focused. Everyone's always comparing him to that guy, so he's on a mission to show he's the better shortstop. It's almost like you have to challenge him all the time to get him to play like he can."
On some levels, of course, it's almost absurd to suggest that Ramirez has underachieved in any way. He just won a batting title. He has started two straight All-Star Games. He ranks No. 1 among all shortstops in the sport in homers, slugging, runs scored and OPS since the day the Marlins first wrote him into the lineup in 2006. He's 26 years old.
So if that's what he has done while flicking the on-off switch, what would he do if he ever shifted into Derek Jeter mode? Win the Triple Crown about eight straight years?
He'll wow you out on that field, man. He'll make plays. He'll swing the bat. He'll do stuff where you're like, 'Whoa.' But then he'll turn around and do some stuff out there where you scratch your head and go, 'What?' He just has these mental lapses where he just shuts it down.
”-- A former teammate of Hanley Ramirez's
"He'll wow you out on that field, man," said his former teammate. "He'll make plays. He'll swing the bat. He'll do stuff where you're like, 'Whoa.' But then he'll turn around and do some stuff out there where you scratch your head and go, 'What?' He just has these mental lapses where he just shuts it down."
Until now, though, the rest of the planet never noticed most of those lapses. That's because they're more subtle than the sight of a guy jogging after a ball that's hip-hopping toward the left-field corner.
They're routine throws that get airmailed. They're double plays that don't get turned. They're get-yourself-out at-bats in blowout games. They're not lead-highlight-on-"SportsCenter" kind of material.
But players notice. The manager notices. The coaching staff notices. And it's that stuff that builds up slowly, quietly, over time -- until something bigger comes along, the way it did this week. And then the bomb goes off.
The trouble with this eruption, though, is that it affects more than just the guy who forgot to hustle. And it affects more than the manager who made it an issue. This is now a crisis that has locked the entire team in its full-nelson-esque grip. And it won't instantly disappear just because the manager is now back to writing Ramirez's name on the lineup card.
It's an eruption that has exposed rifts between the face of the franchise and the rest of his clubhouse. It's an eruption that has exposed the tense relationship between the face of the franchise and the manager. So it's an eruption that raises major questions about where the Marlins go from here -- in 2010 and beyond.
What does it mean for Fredi Gonzalez, for instance? He's been lauded and applauded everywhere for the stand he took. And rightly so. Bobby Cox once took an almost identical stand with Andruw Jones. Ditto Charlie Manuel with Jimmy Rollins. So truth, justice and precedent were on Gonzalez's side.
Except that there's a difference. Jones and Rollins didn't pout or whine or lash back after their benchings. They got the message. They pointed the finger at themselves. And they never gave any indication that they had lost respect for the man who yanked them out of the lineup.
But that isn't how Hanley Ramirez reacted. Was it? He made it clear he wasn't exactly running for president of the Bring Back Fredi in 2011 campaign committee. And even though Ramirez has now relented, apologized and extricated himself from the manager's blacklist, it makes you wonder how repairable their relationship can ever be.
Whether Gonzalez likes it or not, his shortstop clearly needs more stroking than the manager has been comfortable with providing. And the shortstop obviously isn't going anywhere, so that still seems like trouble, in the long haul, for a manager who hasn't been able to connect with the best player on his roster.
Meanwhile, we've heard tales about confrontations between Ramirez and his teammates for years. Some have gone public. Some haven't. But they've all been about essentially the same issue -- approaching the game with a way too cavalier attitude for a player of this stature.
"The funny thing is, Hanley's really a good kid," the ex-teammate said. "When he's playing, he's always smiling and happy. But when something goes bad, then he thinks everyone's against him. And we're not against him. We just want him to play to his potential. I really don't think he knows how good he could be."
At least until now, all those blow-ups were small issues, potholes all involved could navigate around. Not this one. This explosion left a crater they'll all be digging themselves out of for a long time -- especially the superstar who lit the fuse.
"You know the sad part of this?" said another baseball man who has some history with Ramirez. "I think, from now on, you'll never hear Hanley mentioned in the same breath as Jeter, or [Chase] Utley, or [Albert] Pujols, because of this incident. That scar will always be there. It's kind of like Robbie Alomar. He was always talked about as one of those guys until one incident. And then he was never looked at that way again.
"And if that winds up happening with this kid, that would be a shame because let me tell you. Hanley Ramirez is not Manny Ramirez. He's not a bad kid. He's a good kid. He's just young. And he's still a little immature."
It's not a crime to be immature at age 26, by the way. If it were, 75 percent of the 26-year-olds on earth would be serving time in Leavenworth. But you can use immaturity as an excuse only for so long. And for Hanley Ramirez, that time is now up.
This week needs to be his wake-up call. He needs to take the reaction of everyone around him for what it really is -- a plea to grow up, to play right, to act right and to accept the responsibility that goes along with being anointed one of the greatest players alive.
If he wants to erase the stain of an embarrassing video clip that won't die, only he can make that happen. So he has to start making the world forget -- beginning right now.
"He can do that," his former teammate said. "I hope he does. And I hope he learns he impacts a lot more people than he thinks. He's a big part of that club and that organization, and I think he needs to realize that. If he's going to be the guy that organization builds around, then it's time to man up and be The Man out there."
We hope he does, too, because there aren't many more fun players to watch in any area code than Hanley Ramirez. But we also hope he realizes there will be more eyes following him now than at any time in his life.
So this is his chance -- to remind all those watchers just how spectacular a player he can be, not how slowly he can jog after a baseball hip-hopping toward the left-field corner. For every play. In every game. For the rest of his career.
Ready to rumble
Ready, aim, fire: After he got axed as manager of the Kansas City Royals, Trey Hillman intimated to our buddy Soren Petro, on WHB radio in Kansas City, that the owners pushed GM Dayton Moore into it. But baseball people who have spoken to Moore since the firing came away convinced that although the Glass family was "certainly not opposed" to the firing, this was the GM's call.
"From what I've seen," one AL executive said, "Dayton makes decisions with less involvement from ownership than a lot of other general managers I know."
If that's the case, though, Moore's defense of Hillman just two days before the firing -- as "exactly what our organization needs at this point in time" -- has been viewed around the sport as unnecessary and over the top.
"If he fired the guy on a Thursday," one NL exec said, "he had to be thinking about it for a while. So I don't understand why he said what he said."
Clearly, Moore just aspired to support his friend and tone down the fire-the-manager debate that was threatening to engulf his team. But he would have been better off, another baseball man said, just saying "Everyone's under evaluation, including me."
"Remember," said one longtime friend of Moore's, "Dayton probably had never been through firing a manager before. He came up [in Atlanta] with Bobby Cox. And his first manager [Buddy Bell] quit. So I don't think he'll make that mistake again."
Royal flush: If Hillman's firing sent one signal to his players, it sent another to other clubs. The Royals have been rumored to be actively trying to unload veteran players already. But by changing managers, they've basically announced they're not there yet.
"If your team's in selling mode right now," said an official of one team, "it makes no sense to make a managerial change. What this says is, they're trying to salvage the season."
The Royals have been telling clubs that checked in to get back to them in a month. But they continue to shoot down teams that have asked whether they expect to dangle Joakim Soria or Alex Gordon. And we still haven't found a single club with even remotely serious interest in Jose Guillen -- who, by the way, has hit .180, with zero homers and just two extra-base hits, in the past 2½ weeks.
Meanwhile in Atlanta: The hiring of Ned Yost in Kansas City will have at least a mild ripple effect in Atlanta. Why? Because Yost's name has popped up on the list of potential successors to Bobby Cox.
Yost "would have been on the list," said one baseball man close to the Braves' brass. "I think Fredi Gonzalez would have been ahead of him if they were both available. But Ned certainly would have been on the list."
Owning up: Hardly a week goes by without some kind of talk in this column about the possibility of the Houston Astros trading Lance Berkman and/or Roy Oswalt this July. Which means hardly a week goes by without Rumblings questioning whether owner Drayton McLane would ever sign off on dealing two of his favorite players.
But GM Ed Wade tells Rumblings that McLane has never told the baseball operation that any kind of trade is off limits if it can make the Astros better.
"We want to win with the group we have now," Wade said. "But if, at some point, it looks like that's not possible, we have to pay attention to any opportunity that makes us better. And if that means we have to look in a different direction, so be it."
Asked whether McLane understands that, Wade replied: "Yes."
The Astros are still a long ways from opening that auction, though. And both Oswalt and Berkman have no-trade clauses that could complicate any potential trade, even though both men have said recently that they're open to moving on if it's to the right situation.
If the Astros ever were to trade both of them, it would mean the exit of the last links to the Killer B's glory years and the end of an era in Houston. And although that might be tough for some Houstonians to accept (including, we'd guess, McLane), Wade says:
"I'm not sure it's my position to necessarily get bogged down in eras. I always say the glory years of the Astros coincided with Craig Biggio hitting the home run off Billy Wagner in 2005 (that launched the Astros to the wild card and, eventually, the World Series). But all that home run did for me was hasten my departure [as the GM] in Philadelphia. So it's safe to say I have a slightly different perspective than other people here."
No Howel-ing in Tampa: Clubs that have spoken with the Rays say they don't expect Tampa Bay to react to J.P. Howell's season-ending shoulder surgery by running out and trading for bullpen help.
"They're already past that," said an executive of one club. "They've already got the [Randy] Choate factor going, and the [Lance] Cormier factor, and the [Andy] Sonnanstine factor. They're like Minnesota getting past losing [Joe] Nathan. That team has so much character and it's so focused, they just deal with it."
Down the road, the Rays might hunt around for another left-handed reliever. And "They'd love to add a couple of power arms in the 'pen," the same executive said. But in the short term, they're second in the league in bullpen ERA. And opponents are hitting .215 against that bullpen. So this is a team in no hurry to make a deal.
Standing pat: Speaking of the Rays, if Pat Burrell -- just dumped by Tampa Bay after hitting zero home runs off left-handed pitching the past two seasons -- never plays again, he'll wind up his career with the sixth-most home runs in history (267) by guys who were taken with the first overall pick in the draft.
Ahead of him are Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Alex Rodriguez (589), Chipper Jones (428), Harold Baines (384) and Darryl Strawberry (335). Just behind him are Rick Monday (241), Jeff Burroughs (240) and Bob Horner (218).
But is Burrell really done, at age 33? We surveyed executives of two teams -- and got two totally divergent answers.
"I don't think so," one said. "I think the perfect scenario is for Seattle to take a shot at him. They certainly need offense, and at least he'll practically be a freebie."
"I struggle to see where he'd fit," the second exec said. "I know, me personally, I'd rather have Mike Lowell than Pat Burrell. At least Lowell gives you some leadership and quality at-bats off the bench. I don't see where Burrell could help a good club. If he could, they never would have released him. And where would he fit with a club like Kansas City? That doesn't make sense. And he doesn't seem like he's the kind of guy who'd want to go to Triple-A for a couple of weeks to get back in a rhythm. So I don't see him getting a job right away, if he even gets one at all."
"We've had discussions," Amaro said. "He has interest in the Phillies. The Phillies have interest in him. It's just a matter of what makes sense and what's doable. We're keeping the lines of communication open. That's how we left it."
Feel a draft: It's now a foregone conclusion the Washington Nationals are going to take junior college masher Bryce Harper with the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. But it's tough to find any clubs that are really thrilled with the group behind him at the top of Round 1.
The best arm in this draft, for instance, has been reputed to be Texas high school pitcher Jameson Taillon. But the review we heard on him this week from an official of one club, was: "Way overpriced."
"The night I saw him, there was no way I would have thought that kid should be the second pick in the country," the official said. "Here's a kid out there throwing 93 to 98 [miles per hour], and high school kids were whacking his fastball. I'll tell you. It was puzzling. This kid is 6-foot-6 with a big fastball, so you'd think there'd be some intimidation factor. But I didn't see any intimidation factor whatsoever. I think, with his arm, he's probably fixable. But I'd hate to pay a kid the money he's looking for with the thought that we've got to fix some things."
Bang for the Bucco: The Pittsburgh Pirates -- who hold that No. 2 pick -- might not have future stars all over the diamond. But they have something special in center field, where Andrew McCutchen has proved already that he's more than just another kid with a little talent.
"That guy's got it," said McCutchen's new teammate, Ryan Church. "He's got that 'it.' He's not one of those toolsy guys who's out there trying to find it. He has it. And he goes about it like he has it -- not in a cocky way, in a confident way. And you'll never know if he's 0-for-5 or 5-for-5. Same guy. And that's hard to find in young players."
Church hadn't seen much of McCutchen before he joined the Pirates this spring. But the more he saw, the more evident it became that this was one young player whose talents matched the hype.
"It was like a daily thing," Church said. "You'd see him crush a ball, and you'd say, 'Damn, there's the power.' Then he'd drop a bunt down and be at second base before the guy throws it to first. Then you'd see him on the basepaths, just wreaking havoc. And then you'd see him in the outfield, running down everything. I mean, that's the definition of a center fielder. So it was that kind of thing. Every day. You'd heard about it. You'd read about it. Then I got a chance to see it, firsthand. And it was all real."
The heart of Texas: Two prominent baseball men we spoke with this week say they're growing increasingly uncomfortable with MLB's efforts to strong-arm the Texas Rangers' creditors in an effort to speed along the sale of the club to a group headed by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan.
As the Sports Business Journal and The New York Times have reported, Bud Selig has threatened to invoke his "best interests of baseball" powers to, essentially, force those creditors into accepting the Greenberg/Ryan group's bid. But one longtime baseball man with expertise in law and finance, says, "It's crazy to think the 'best interests of baseball' goes that far. Those creditors have rights that trump the best interests of baseball."
If Selig does attempt to use those powers in this case, said another baseball man with a legal background, the creditors "will go to court and kill it." And it's hard to see how baseball can risk a court battle that could endanger the powers of the commissioner and possibly even baseball's anti-trust exemption.
And if baseball threatens to take control of the Rangers and not pay back all the accrued debt, "I don't know any court in the world that would let that happen," the second source said. "And if it did, why in the world would any bank ever lend money to a professional sports team again?"
So as much as baseball officials talk hopefully about completing this sale soon, the real battle might just be beginning.
Future shock: A few weeks ago in Rumblings, we looked at which teams had the most guaranteed dollars committed already for 2011 and 2012. But there's more where that came from. So let's look now at 2013 and beyond.
MOST GUARANTEED MONEY 2013-15
No place like home: Time for the weekly Super-Phenom note. Why isn't Stephen Strasburg in the big leagues yet? It's not just about the old Super-2 Factor.
Obviously, the Nationals know now that a guy who has allowed four hits to the 59 Triple-A hitters he has faced is ready. But they were committed, from the beginning, to getting him at least three starts in Triple-A. And even though he has done that, the schedule alone stands in the way of promoting Strasburg for another two weeks.
The Nationals decided months ago that the only sensible way to manage the hysteria that will surround Strasburg's debut was to make sure his first start was in Washington. But they had only five home games scheduled -- all this week -- in a span of 24 games between May 18 and June 3.
So why is the June 4 opener of their next homestand such a top Stub Hub attraction? It sure isn't because those red-hot Cincinnati Reds will be in town.
That's a stretch: One more on The Super-Phenom: When the Nationals sent Strasburg to the minor leagues this spring, one thing they wanted him to work on was pitching with runners on base. Uh, how's that working out?
Through eight starts, Strasburg has faced only 46 hitters while anybody was on base -- and 13 of them came in one start (his finale in Double-A). So the joke around the Nationals these days is that they might have to try intentionally walking the first hitter of every inning. Otherwise, the guy might never get to work from the stretch.
Oh, say, can you see: Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer still isn't commenting on what he was checking out with his famous binoculars in Colorado last week. But he did confirm to Rumblings that he's leading the league in being the butt of binocular jokes. And the best line came from his dad, Fred Billmeyer.
"Hey, we're taking up a collection," Billmeyer's father told him. "We're going to buy you a Hubble telescope."
The Rumblings Scouting Bureau
Once again this week, let's check in with some of America's foremost scouting minds.
• On Mariano Rivera: "I know this is heresy, but I think he's slipping because his velocity is not there. He's only about 89-90-91 [mph] -- especially after about 10 pitches. He's not 93-94 anymore, and it's made a big difference."
• On Jonathan Papelbon: "He's having a tough time getting the ball to the outer half of the plate to right-handed hitters. Everything's in to those guys. So they're just waiting on that pitch and turning on it."
• On David Price: "I think this is the year that will really determine if he's going to be a true top-of-the-rotation guy. His stuff at times can be dominant. And he's doing a good job now of pitching. He realizes he doesn't have to throw the ball 97 miles an hour all the time. But he'll definitely dial it up when he needs to."
• On Felix Hernandez: "I don't like his whole look. He isn't finishing off his pitches as well as he used to. And he's got bad body language. He looked like something was bothering him. He was hanging his head and moving very slowly. I've heard he's had back issues. Maybe that's all it is. But I don't know what to think. He's still good. But he has to work a lot harder now to get through a lineup. It hasn't been the same dominant stuff I saw last year."
Quotes of the week
• From Mike Lowell (to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford), after a game in Detroit in which his entire day consisted of pinch hitting, singling on the first pitch and then getting pinch run for: "I played for seven seconds. That was pretty cool."
• From Brewers broadcast legend Bob Uecker (to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt), on what he's been doing to ease back into his regular routine after heart surgery: "I started driving. In my garage. Just to get the feel for it again."
• From Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on Sunday, after Jason Kubel's stunning grand slam off Mariano Rivera broke the Twins' nine-game losing streak against the Yankees: "We're 1-0 now against the Yankees in our last one game. We'll construe the numbers any way we want to now."
Tweet of the Week
From Rumblings' official go-to tweeter, "Late Show" quipster Eric Stangel (@EricStangel):
BREAKING MLB NEWS: Nick Johnson injured himself during his wrist surgery and will require more surgery
Headliner of the Week
Finally, this just in from the always-hilarious sportspickle.com:
KEN GRIFFEY JR. FALLS ASLEEP DURING CHANGE-UP
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.