The Tampa Bay Rays found themselves headed into 2015 without a clear-cut shortstop, so they took to the open market, signing the best free agent infielder available, Asdrubal Cabrera, to a one-year deal as he looked to rebuild his value. It ended up being a successful venture, as Cabrera posted 2.2 fWAR and had his best offensive season since 2012.
With Cabrera now a free agent, the team finds themselves in a similar situation headed into 2016.
Either Daniel Robertson and Willy Adames still could be the club's shortstop of the future, but Robertson has yet to see Triple-A time and will likely not be an option until late 2016, while Adames is at least a year further behind.
The team possess Nick Franklin and Tim Beckham, and could theoretically platoon them, but neither excites on defense at the position and both have questions with the bat as well. Thus, the Rays could end up opting to bring in another shortstop as a stopgap to Robertson and/or Adames, and free agent Alexei Ramirez represents an interesting option for them.
The White Sox held a $10 million option on Ramirez for 2016 that came with a $1 million buyout, making it essentially a $9 million decision for the team. Given Ramirez's poor 2015 as well as the likelihood that the team will not compete in 2016 anyways, the White Sox declined this option, making him a free agent.
Ramirez represented a solid shortstop option from 2010 to 2014 for the Chicago White Sox, dropping below the 3.0 fWAR mark just once in those five campaigns.
While he never ranked as a league-average hitter during that time according to wRC+, he was decent enough: posting an 88 wRC+ or above in four of those five years. His value primarily came from defense, and to use a general measure (as his DRS has dramatic highs and lows), he put up a 5.5 UZR or above four times from 2010 to 2014.
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2015 was a different story for Ramirez, however, as he dropped below replacement level for the first time in his career, coming up with a -0.5 fWAR. His .249/.285/.357 line at the plate was uninspiring, and his 72 wRC+ was tied for the lowest of his career. To cap it all off, even his defense slipped, as his -6.4 UZR and -6 DRS were both the career worsts.
Ramirez has plenty of question marks going into next season, but given his consistent play over his career he still comes with intrigue. He also hit .282/.329/.426 from July 1st to the end of the season compared to a line of just .212/.235/.281 before July, inspiring hope that he still has something in the tank offensively.
His situation is similar to Cabrera, in that Ramirez might be able to be had for just a one-year deal -- which would be perfect for the Rays as they certainly do not want to spend the resources trading for or signing a shortstop with multiple years of control left.
There are certainly some other hurdles for Ramirez to get to the Rays.
At 34 years old, if a two or three-year contract is to be had, he would be tempted to take more guaranteed money even at a lower AAV than a one-year pact. On top of that, there is no guarantee the team would even be able to afford him on a one-year deal given that payroll is expected to decrease from last season. The old Ramirez likely would have been worth that $10M, but 2016 Ramirez is more of a gamble.
Still, if the Rays want an upgrade over some combination of Franklin and Beckham to at least start the year, Ramirez could be their best option.
The only two other notable free agent shortstops, Cabrera and Ian Desmond, will likely be out of the club's price range unless Desmond wants a one-year deal himself. Given Desmond's stronger track record, Ramirez is the more likely candidate to be available for a one-year deal.
It may not be the perfect fit or the most ideal candidate, but Ramirez is intriguing enough for a bounce-back season to at least get some interest from the Rays this off-season.