Transaction Analysis: Brewers Send Aramis Ramirez to Pittsburgh

Traded 3B-R Aramis Ramirez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Yhonathan Barrios

The Brewers began indicating to both baseball media and front offices around the league that they would be sellers as early as May 7th. The Brewers have plenty of players worthy of trade speculation—Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun perhaps the most interesting—but the most obvious trade candidate, the player most clearly on his way out was third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The 37-year-old will be retiring at the end of the season and is in the last year of a four-year contract with Milwaukee, making him a relatively painless option for a team in need of infield help.

And over the past few weeks, the Pirates swiftly became that team. First, Josh Harrison tore the UCL in his thumb sliding into second base on July 5th, forcing Jung-Ho Kang into action as the everyday third baseman. Then during the Brewers last series against Pittsburgh over the weekend, Carlos Gomez collided with Jordy Mercer sliding to break up a double play, a collision that resulted in a bruised and sprained left knee. Now, Kang will move back to his original position of shortstop with Ramirez taking over duties at third for the Pirates, as the Brewers have agreed to send Ramirez and cash considerations to Pittsburgh in exchange for hard throwing right-handed pitcher Yhonathan Barrios.

Ramirez’s April struggles were part of the nose dive that killed Milwaukee’s season in its first month. He hit a brutal .214/.236/.357 in 22 April games and walked just once against 12 strikeouts. Any time a player as old and with as much mileage as Ramirez—lest we forget, he made his MLB debut at age 19 and is 10th among active players with 2,138 games played and 8,772 plate appearance—starts so slowly, the natural instinct is to assume Father Time has finally caught up to him. But slow starts have been the norm for Ramirez throughout his career. Ramirez has just a .769 career OPS in April and a .781 mark in May—15 percent and 12 percent below his typical marks respectively, according to Baseball-Reference’s tOPS+. In every other month, he has posted a career OPS over .800.

Since his brutal April, Ramirez is hitting .258/.313/.455, a respectable line compared to the National League third base average of .268/.328/.431. That’s a far sight better than what anybody in the Pirates organization (Pittsburgh’s likely replacement third baseman was former White Sox starter Brent Morel, owner of a .225/.272/.325 career line) could have done. For a Pirates team within six games of the Cardinals in the division and leading the Wild Card race, Ramirez was an awfully cheap fix.

Barrios, Milwaukee’s return, is a somewhat fascinating prospect. It’s rare enough to see anybody hitting triple digits, but Barrios does it with just a 5-foot-11, 180 pound frame, and as FanGraphs’s Nathaniel Stoltz shared prior to the season, he does it with a surprisingly smooth delivery:

Barrios has yet to turn that blazing velocity into reliable results. He has just a 4.60 ERA in 13 games at Triple-A this season and posted a 3.86 ERA between two Class A squads in 2014. His minor league 6.6 K/9 is underwhelming, and his control has been shaky at every level. But he has only been pitching professionally for three years—the Pirates converted him from the infield to the mound after the 2012 season—and is only 23 years old. His off-speed pitches are understandably works in progress, and even for pitchers with as much power as Barrios has shown, it’s typically the off-speed pitch that racks up the strikeouts.

Barrios will be a project for Milwaukee’s coaching staff, but that’s about as much as could be expected in return for Ramirez. And even in order to get that, the Brewers had to eat a few million dollars—the Pirates are only paying for $3 million of the nearly $6 million left on Ramirez’s contract, according to Ken Rosenthal

It’s an earnest rebuilding move, though, as the Brewers attempt to assemble the young talent they’ll need to compete again like they did in 2008 and 2011. Ramirez, meanwhile, gets his chance to compete for a pennant in his retirement season, and, amazingly, he’ll be able to finish his 18-year career without ever leaving the comfortable confines of the National League Central.

Lead photo courtesy of Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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