Once again, the Dodgers have turned their clubhouse into a sanctuary for a supremely talented but mercurial player no longer wanted by his longtime employer.
The centerpiece of a multi-player trade with the Miami Marlins late Tuesday, three-time All-Star Hanley Ramirez joins the Dodgers with a reputation similar to that of another Ramirez who was acquired in a high-profile trade in recent years.
As was the case with Manny Ramirez in 2008, Hanley Ramirez is considered one of the top talents of his generation. He is also notoriously temperamental. His effort on the field has been called into question. He has a reputation as a bad teammate and is known to make questionable, if not maddening, decisions. Shortly before the All-Star break, he punched a cooling fan and lacerated his hand.
Manny Ramirez's two-year stay with the Dodgers was one of extremes. He repaired his image and won the hearts of Angelenos, almost single-handedly taking the Dodgers to the 2008 National League Championship Series. He re-signed for two years but flunked a league-mandated drug test and returned from his suspension no longer a dominant player or affable character.
The initial investment in Hanley Ramirez is far greater than was the initial investment in Manny Ramirez, who was under contract for only two more months at the time of his trade to the Dodgers. The Dodgers are tied to Hanley Ramirez for the next 21/2 years. And whereas the Boston Red Sox paid what remained of Manny Ramirez's 2008 salary, the Dodgers are assuming all of the $38 million or so that remains on Hanley Ramirez's deal.
Two assumptions were made by the Dodgers when they acquired Hanley Ramirez and left-handed reliever Randy Choate in exchange for rookie starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and Class-A pitcher Scott McGough.
One was that Ramirez is capable of reclaiming his place among baseball's elite players. The other was that he won't cause any problems in the clubhouse.
Ramirez is a career .300 hitter, but he was batting .246 with the Marlins this year and batted .243 last year.
Pointing to how Ramirez is 28, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said, "It's been there once, I know it's still there."
Ramirez's power numbers are back up; he had 14 home runs and 48 runs batted in with the Marlins at the time of the trade. He has hit 24 home runs or more three times in his six previous seasons, including a career-high 33 in 2008.
His disappointing performance last year was blamed on his problematic left shoulder, which required a season-ending operation. The Dodgers are convinced the shoulder won't be an issue. Ramirez underwent a related procedure on the same shoulder in 2007 and was selected to three All-Star teams after that.
As far as his attitude is concerned, General Manager Ned Colletti was convinced it wouldn't be an issue after he spoke to Ramirez's agent, Adam Katz. Receiving permission from the Marlins to speak to Katz before the deal was complete, Colletti was told by the agent that if Ramirez was to be traded, he wanted it to be to the Dodgers.
Colletti said his view of Ramirez was reaffirmed by conversations he and Mattingly had with him late Tuesday. Most encouraging was how Ramirez was open to playing any position. A career shortstop, Ramirez was rumored to be distraught by how he was forced to move to third base this season to accommodate free-agent addition Jose Reyes.
Ramirez started at third base in his first game with the Dodgers on Wednesday, but the short-term plan is for him to play shortstop in place of sidelined Dee Gordon.
Gordon, 24, is raw but also an extremely gifted athlete. Mindful of his defensive range and potential as a base stealer, the Dodgers' stance has been that they would be patient with his inconsistent play because he could develop into a special player. But that was before they acquired Ramirez.
Although Mattingly has the option to play Ramirez at third base and Gordon at shortstop, he wouldn't say he would, casting a cloud of doubt over Gordon's future with the club.
If Ramirez plays third base, Juan Uribe's tenure with the Dodgers will probably end soon. Uribe is under contract for one more season and will be owed another $8 million. But if the Dodgers' recent spending spree is any indication, that amount of money wouldn't prevent them from designating him for assignment.
Adding payroll expenses hasn't been an obstacle for these Dodgers, who are under new ownership. What has been an impediment in making deals is the shortage of top prospects in their farm system. Colletti said many of the teams he has approached about potential trades were more interested in receiving prospects than salary relief. In the Marlins, he found a team whose primary interest was to dump Ramirez's contract.