The Brewers have had a busy spring. Between Ryan Braun’s ordeals, the injuries to Shaun Marcum and Corey Hart and the ongoing questions of negotiations between the squad and Zack Greinke, Aramis Ramirez has managed to spend the spring relatively under the radar. It hasn’t hurt that Ramirez has come on strong after a slow start — the 33-year-old is 8-for-21 in his last eight games and finally hit his first home run of the spring on Saturday. Expectations are high for Ramirez this season — at least for his bat — in no small part as he is the de facto replacement for Prince Fielder as the lineup’s big bopper after Ryan Braun.
Of course, expecting Ramirez to replace Fielder completely would be unreasonable. The Brewers are hoping to do that with depth — better defense at certain positions, a better bench, a better bullpen — but also with significantly better offensive performance at the hot corner. Whereas Casey McGehee was by far the worst qualified hitter at third base in the league last season — a .272 wOBA against second-to-last Danny Valencia’s .296 — Ramirez offers one of the league’s best bat at the position over the past eight seasons. Only Adrian Beltre (.379) outdid Ramirez’s .373 mark last season, and only five players — Miguel Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, David Wright and Kevin Youkilis — have outdone his mark of .378 since 2004.
If it weren’t for one blip on Ramirez’s radar screen — a poor 2010 season which saw his triple-slash line sink to an ugly .241/.294/.452 — there would likely be little worry at all about Ramirez’s ability to jump in and produce for the Brewers. But even in that year, the worst of Ramirez’s full-time (since 2001) career, he still clubbed 25 home runs and had an OPS just seven points below the third base average.
This isn’t to say there isn’t some downside to Ramirez this season. Twice in the last four years he has failed to play in 125 games. At 33 and turning 34 in June, injuries will only become a larger looming shadow as time progresses. And perhaps more importantly, Ramirez’s defense is poor. He consistently rates negatively (sometimes sharply so) in all of the advanced fielding metrics and had the moniker “E5″ because of his error prone ways as a member of the Pirates.
But when it came to third base this year, the Brewers were beggars, and beggars can’t be choosers. For just $6 million for the 2012 season and carrying the historically solid bat Ramirez is now known for, the Brewers and Doug Melvin should be able to get good production out of their free agent pickings.