Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Why Didn't the Indians Sign Manny Ramirez?

In a move that surprised no one, the Oakland Athletics signed free agent Manny Ramirez Monday afternoon. The deal had been a long time coming, but now it’s official: Ramirez won’t be rejoining the Indians in 2012.

Not that there was much of a chance that he was coming to Cleveland to begin with. GM Chris Antonetti had made it clear that he wasn’t interested in bringing Ramirez back to the organization he debuted with. But that doesn’t mean not signing Manny was the smart move—in fact, now that we know what it would have taken to get him, the Indians’ refusal to consider him looks even worse.

Antonetti’s reasoning for why he wasn’t looking into signing Ramirez was that he supposedly was not a “positional fit.” This leads to a similar question to one that needed to be asked in response to the A.J. Burnett trade rumors last week: Who do the Indians think is going to take Travis Hafner’s spot in the lineup when he’s not there?

Of course, the Indians aren’t losing Hafner (although it looked like they might last week). But we’re talking about a guy who has missed an average of 71 games a year (roughly the equivalent of playing only until the All-Star Break) over the last four seasons. He made only 84 starts for the Tribe in 2011 and hasn’t made more than 108 starts in a year since 2007.

Felix Pie is enough of a “positional fit” to get a spring training invitation despite being (at best) the sixth-best outfielder the Indians have. Jose Lopez got a deal even though Cleveland already has at least four better utility infielder options for 2012. But despite the fact that there’s no clear candidate to fill Hafner’s shoes for the 50 or 60 games he’ll miss in 2012, the front office somehow decided that Ramirez doesn’t belong.

The latest news out of Indians camp is that catcher Carlos Santana will fill in at DH for most of Hafner’s off-days, with Lou Marson getting time behind the plate—essentially, Marson will be replacing Pronk in the lineup. Now, even if my projections for Ramirez’ 2012 numbers (139 wRC+, 2.7 WAR over a full season) are a tad optimistic—personally I think they were fairly conservative—it’s fair to say that Manny with his .996 career OPS would be a much better fill-in for Hafner than Marson, whose career OPS is just .600.

We knew all this before. The difference now is that we know exactly what it would have taken to get him. Hearing that a player is too expensive is a common refrain in Cleveland. But the Athletics signed him to a minor-league deal that will pay him $500,000 if he makes the MLB team. In other words, the A’s got him for about one-tenth of the cost of a marginal win on the free agent market, and they have absolutely nothing to lose if he isn’t good enough to earn a roster spot.

The Ramirez deal looks even better when compared to some of the many minor-league deals the Indians have shelled out this winter. Andy LaRoche will earn $600,000 if he makes the team, and he’s been below replacement-level two seasons in a row. Fred Lewis‘ base salary would be $725,000, while Jeremy Accardo and Robinson Tejeda would each get $825,000 if they make the team; all three could get more than $1 million if they hit their playing time incentives. Why can we give Gregorio Petit a non-guaranteed $500,000 deal but not Ramirez?

It’s too late now, and apparently it was too late from the beginning. But short of thinking Travis Hafner can play a full season or Lou Marson can replace him in the lineup, I don’t understand the idea that Ramirez isn’t a “positional fit.” And for what it took to sign him, Manny would absolutely have been a great investment for the Indians. It’s a shame we missed out on it.

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