In cases like this, at some point it’s no longer a slump. It’s who the player has become.
Here’s who Jose Ramirez has become: He who hit .312 in 2016, .318 in 2017 and in 2018 had 105 RBIs, went into the weekend hitting .198 (ranking 160th in the majors), with 21 RBIs (189th in the majors).
Last year, Ramirez was third in the majors with an fWAR of 8.0. This year he ranks 148th in the majors at -0.2.
His “slump” is now 2½ months this year, five months, going back to last year.
Ramirez has become what he’s become, which, some believe, is the second coming (and going) of Carlos Baerga. There’s some validity to that, but only partially.
In a five-year span starting in 1992, Baerga’s WAR went from 6.3 to 5.1 to 2.7 to 2.7, and, finally, to -0.8 in 1996, when the Indians gave up on him and traded him at midseason.
Ramirez’s WAR starting in 2016 went like this: 4.7 to 6.5 to 8.0 to, this year: -0.2.
Where the comp breaks down is that we know why Baerga, at age 27, suddenly went south. Despite warnings and admonishments from Indians officials, he let himself get out of shape, and his off-the-field lifestyle started to get in the way.
Ramirez, like Baerga, is hardly a chiseled physical specimen. But Ramirez, when he was finishing third in the MVP voting in each of the last two years, was built the same as he is today, when he’s hitting .198. There’s also no evidence that Ramirez is burning the candle at both ends, as was the case with Baerga.
So Ramirez’s career arc — impressive ascent, rapid decent — is starting to look like Baerga’s, but not completely. Yet.
The bigger question now is what do the Indians do with Ramirez? There seem to be six possible courses of action. Here they are, in no particular order:
KEEP PLAYING HIM: This, given manager Terry Francona’s well-earned reputation for loyalty to his veterans, seems like the most likely strategy. Francona is walking a thin line here, however. Ramirez’s hitting woes started shortly after last year’s All-Star break, and since then it’s looked like a relentless march to Baergaville, and we’re not talking small sample size.
On the other hand, barring a monumental collapse by the Twins, the Indians are not going to win their division. So it’s not like Ramirez’s relentless out-making is going to hurt the Indians’ chances of winning their division. That ship has already sailed. If the Indians anticipated being in a tight division race in the second half of the season, Francona might show less patience toward The Ramirez Conundrum. But the Indians are not, so Francona is probably more inclined to continue his Ramirez vigil.
BENCH HIM: Maybe what Ramirez needs most is a break from having to walk to home plate four times every game and seeing all his ugly numbers plastered all over the scoreboard for his entire at-bat.
Maybe, for a week or two, playing him two or three times a week, instead of every day, might allow him to relax, both mentally and physically. In a slump of this length it seems likely that the pressure Ramirez is putting on himself is as big a problem for him as opposing pitchers.
TRADE HIM: This would be a knee-jerk reaction, and an ill-advised one at that. Ramirez’s trade value right now couldn’t be lower. That -0.2 WAR means that his current value to his team is less than that of a replacement player, which is defined as an average Triple-A player.
In the first half of last season, when he was a serious MVP candidate with a chance to lead the league in home runs AND stolen bases, the Indians could have traded Ramirez for a king’s ransom. This year? They’d be lucky to get a pauper’s ransom. There aren’t many teams looking for a .198-hitting third baseman.
SEND HIM TO THE MINORS: Ramirez does have a minor league option left, but because he has four-plus years of service time in the majors, the Indians could only option him to the minors with his permission. Hard to believe Ramirez would sign off on that.
RELEASE HIM: Even with ownership trying to cut as many financial corners as possible, this would be a gross overreaction, especially since the Indians would still be on the hook for the remainder of Ramirez’s $4.1 million salary this year, and the $16 million in guaranteed money the Indians owe him in the two years after this one.
MOVE HIM DOWN IN THE ORDER: Eighth or ninth seems about right. Or Francona could get creative and hit Ramirez in front of Francisco Lindor, thereby guaranteeing Ramirez would see more fastballs, instead of the steady diet of breaking balls he’s been getting, and not hitting, since his slump began.