On November 16, the fall winds provided an icy chill off the cool waters of Lake Erie as the Cleveland Indians front office prepared for what promised to be a difficult and complex offseason; guaranteed to toy with the heart string of fans. Yet, there was also sunlight. The warmth amidst the late autumn temperatures being provided by the effervescent smile of second baseman Jose Ramirez. That evening, Ramirez, never a top-100 prospect in the public scouting community,1 would complete his age 24-to-25 season with a third place finish in American League MVP voting. The 2017 season was a special one for Ramirez, and placed a man of small stature in front of the national attention he deserved.
The description of the type of player Ramirez is for the Indians can best be conceived as a man who does everything. Power? Ramirez jumped from 11 home runs in 2016 to 29 in 2017. His isolated power rose 115 points above his previous career high. Speed? The high stolen base count was still there with 17. Contact ability? While all of baseball was seeing escalating strikeout rates, Ramirez maintained his elite bat control as he struck out just 10.7% of the time. Ramirez became a super star player in the era of the “juiced ball” and the elevation revelation without bringing with him any of the warts.
There was something else about his season which was essential to the Indians. Ramirez once again produced from all over the field. Long the naturally-gifted second baseman playing at third, Ramirez provided essential second base play following Jason Kipnis’ injury mid-season. His ability to transition without a drop-off in his pla allowed the Indians to deploy Yandy Diaz and Giovanny Urshela at third base. Such continued a pattern throughout his young career in MLB as Ramirez has been moved all over the diamond. At each position, he has continued to produce, which has made manager Terry Francona’s job easier by allowing him to consistently get his best talents on the field.
Ramirez abbreviated season of play at third base should not be forgotten. Despite transitioning to second base and logging significant time at both positions, Ramirez was a Gold Glove finalist at third base. This accolade despite it being a position he did not play heavily until the last two years. Thus, as Ramirez was announced as second runner-up in American League MVP voting, Indians fans could celebrate the joy of Ramirez finally experiencing the national notoriety his play deserved.
Yet, the defining moment of the season for Ramirez and his impact on the future of the Indians happened before Opening Day of his MVP finalist season when he made a decision which will impact the next six years of Cleveland Indians baseball.
Flash back to March 24, 2017. The Indians were readying for the season in Goodyear, Arizona; playing golf, pitcher fielding practice, and trying different flavors of bubblegum. Jose Ramirez, however, was in the midst of signing a contract extension. The options on this contract can keep him in Cleveland through the year 2023.
While there is an argument to be made the Indians pushed in the chips on Ramirez long term before his true value was realized on the field, the contract tilted extremely on the club side. Player advocates advising Ramirez would scoff at the offer. With only five years and $26 million guaranteed as well as option years of $11 million and $13 million, the Indians are positioned to generate roughly $100 million or more in surplus value over the course of the deal.
The 2017 awards season was exceptional for the Tribe with Ramirez placing in the MVP voting, Francisco Lindor finishing fifth in AL MVP voting, Corey Kluber winning an AL Cy Young Award, and Carlos Carrasco finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting. Yet, the real story for the Indians was that every single one of those dominant performers have affordable, team-controlled contracts through at least 2021.
In baseball, few things are certain. Careers rise and fall with the sun, and injuries create the fateful paths for player and team alike. However, despite a postseason and offseason strewn with dark spots, 2017 was a year that should inject optimism into all who wish well on the Indians future. The positive outlook due to award caliber performances of the present alluding to future returns over the course of the next four years of Indians baseball. Especially from the 5-foot-9 second baseman who just kept producing until the entire baseball community took notice.
- J-Ram also often dismissed in his early career by Indians fans who saw the scouting reports and stature rather than the ridiculous rate with which he rose through the minor leagues. [↩]