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Hanley Ramirez injury probably not a big blow to Dodgers

Given Ramirez's diminished abilities and their infield depth, the Dodgers should be able to get by.


It's perhaps unfair to say that the World Baseball Classic has claimed its first victim in Hanley Ramirez -- he could as easily have hurt his thumb in a standard spring training game or crossing the street, but the fact remains, the Dodgers are going to be without his services for some time:

We don't yet know how long Ramirez will be out -- yesterday, Don Mattingly speculated that if surgery was necessary to fix the injury, incurred when the shortstop dove for a ball during the WBC finale, could be out as long as 10 weeks.

The irony here is that the Dodgers could conceivably be, if not better off with Ramirez out, at least break even on the deal. The club had intended to keep Ramirez at his original position of shortstop, the position played for the Dodgers after they traded for him last season, rather than third base. The problem is the Marlins don't do everything wrong, and they had a good reason for changing Ramirez's position at the beginning of last season: by most measures, Ramirez was a very poor defensive shortstop, prone to errors without showing extensive range to compensate. As long as he was hitting .300 with power, Ramirez was the NL version of Derek Jeter: an offensive plus at shortstop whose bat more than made up for his glove.

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Those days ended back in 2010, prompting the Marlins signing Jose Reyes. Over the last two seasons, Ramirez has hit only .252/.326/.416 with declining speed production. An additional irony of the move is that Ramirez's bat may no longer be enough for the hot corner, even as his glove remains inadequate for short. The Dodgers, who gambled on a rebound in trading for Ramirez last July 25 and locked in to the player through 2015, correctly decided that, well, if you're stuck with Hanley Ramirez on the roster, the place where he would provide the most utility is at short -- but again, the "if" there is if his bat were to rebound. At present levels, when combined with his weak defense, the Dodgers would have a former star, being compensated with star-level prices, who is not worth playing.

Given that, losing Ramirez is not a big blow, at least on paper. However, that statement presupposes the presence of a defensively-adequate replacement. That is probably not the case in Los Angeles. Dee Gordon was a complete bust last year, failing to hit or field to a degree that his plus speed is entirely beside the point. Luis Cruz has played 66 games at shortstop in the majors. It was his primary position in the minors, and he can probably be acceptable there, though a repeated of last season's .297/.322/.431 rates seems unlikely given the 29-year-old journeyman's minor-league track record; projection systems see him putting up an on-base percentage around .290, but given the alternatives, the Dodgers may have to be happy with that in the short term.

Moving Cruz would necessitate a reversion to last season's initial arrangement at third base, with Juan Uribe and Jerry Hairston putting in time at the hot corner.

The Dodgers can also make extensive use of all-around glove-man Nick Punto as a spot starter and substitute -- he's a fine glove at second, short, and third, but with a bat that has kept him on the bench.

Uribe has been a complete loss the last two seasons (.199/.262/.289 in 474 plate appearances), but Punto and Hairston at least reach base at a decent rate. It seems likely that as long as he stays away from Gordon, Mattingly can mix and match on the infield's left side and get offense and defense that might be just good enough for the team to survive the next two months in good shape. After Ramirez returns, it's possible the team will be in the market for a third baseman, Cruz's weaknesses having been exposed in the interim, but for now, the club will get by.

It won't be what classic Hanley Ramirez would have given them, but then, the odds were that Ramirez, heading into the fourth season after his 2009 peak, wasn't going to give them that anyway.

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