Ramirez's move to third base may be smoother than expected
Three-time All-Star SS Hanley Ramirez has never played third base before
Miami signed Jose Reyes, another star shortstop, pushing Ramirez to 3B
Ozzie Guillen admits Ramirez isn't on board yet but thinks he will by Opening Day
In the summer of 1999, when he was 35 years old and in his baseball dotage, Ozzie Guillen learned that the Atlanta Braves intended to move him away from the position of shortstop. Guillen had played short in more than 1,900 games over his career's fifteen years, which included three All-Star appearances, and he got it into his head that the Braves intended to now move him to third base, as a back-up to Chipper Jones, who was midway to winning a Most Valuable Player award. Guillen was not pleased with the prospect of a move, and as remains the case when he is not pleased, he voiced his displeasure loudly and colorfully.
As it turned out, Guillen was mistaken. The Braves had not planned to move him to third at all. They planned not to play him anywhere anymore, at least not much. After July 31, Guillen, a .241 batter that year, started just three more games for the Braves. After a career-concluding season with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000, his baseball playing days were over.
Guillen told this story last week in Miami, where he is about to begin his first year as the manager of the newly renamed and newly reloaded Miami Marlins. He told it, specifically, for its relation to the Marlins' incumbent star, Hanley Ramirez, who will this season be required to move from shortstop -- the only position he has ever played in his six major league seasons, other than a few interleague games at DH -- to third, due to the arrival via free agency of his good friend Jose Reyes, the former Met. The moral of the story: If a team bothers to move you from one part of the diamond to another, you shouldn't think it values you any less.
"There's a lot of good players who move," Guillen said. "Bad players, the get released or traded, or they go play in Mexico. Good players, they're moved to another position. Look at the players who moved. Oh my god. Michael Young. Miguel Cabrera. A-Rod. Robin Yount. Cal Ripken. You're not talking about Pedro Perez" -- a catchall name, it seemed, for a dime-a-dozen major leaguer -- "you're talking about good ones."
Ramirez is not the only prominent player faced with a position or significant role change this season. Others include:
Cabrera, whom the Tigers plan to move from first to third due to arrival of free agent Prince Fielder;
Neftali Feliz, the AL Rookie of the Year as a closer for the Rangers in 2010 who will now become a starter;
Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox shortstop who was traded to Colorado in January, where he will play second as Colorado's shortstop position will be filled for the next decade or so by Troy Tulowitzki;
Mark Trumbo, second in the Rookie of the Year balloting as the Angels first baseman last season, but possibly the Angels' third baseman this season because of the signing of Albert Pujols;
Jim Thome, the 41-year-old who has been almost nothing but a DH in 2006, but who signed with a team -- the Phillies -- that play in a league that has no DH, so he will likely play at least some games at first base.
Each of those players, however, is in a situation different from that of Ramirez. Either they are being asked to move to a position that they have played before (Cabrera, Scutaro, Thome); saw the move coming a long time ago (Feliz, who was almost made a starter last spring); or are in too tenuous a place in their careers to have, or at least to express, much of an opinion (Trumbo).
The in-his-prime Ramirez, at 28 a three-time All-Star and former batting champion, has more reason to create a problem, as Guillen recognized. "I don't think he's 100 percent on board," Guillen said last week. "Not yet. Not from the last time I talked to him. I don't expect him to be. I expect him to be 100 percent on board with this move when we play St. Louis, on Opening Day."
The funny thing, however, is that for all the doomsday scenarios -- in which Ramirez, who can be mercurial, would through his petulance force a trade away from the Marlins, thereby derailing their attempt to become relevant in a new ballpark after a winter in which they signed Reyes, starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell -- we heard very little from Ramirez himself on the move. Reyes hung out with him in the Dominican Republic in December, just a couple of weeks after he had signed with the Marlins, and reported last week, "When I saw Hanley, he was happy."
In fact, the sneakily savvy Guillen, by preparing the public for a discontented Ramirez, might have been setting in motion the first of many subtle psychological ploys as Miami's manager. What he might have been doing is creating a situation in which anything other than a surly Ramirez would seem a pleasant surprise. And while Ramirez has still not said much, that seems to be what is happening.
Last week, for instance, Ramirez replied on Twitter to a Dominican newspaper column that suggested that things would end poorly between Ramirez and Reyes, and Ramirez and the Marlins. "Via this medium I want to let everyone know that what came out in the newspaper Hoy about me, the team and Guillen is a lie," he wrote in Spanish. Then: "And now what are you going to talk about if the whole world knows I'm going to play third base with the Marlins." Then: "Trying to soil my image with lies. Third base with the Marlins forever baby."
And on Tuesday, Ramirez took his first-ever grounders at third base, at the Marlins' spring training complex in Jupiter, Fla. "I never said I'm not going to do it," he told reporters. "I'm positive mentally. I feel great."
Guillen, by creating a situation in which Ramirez is allowed to feel less than completely positive about being moved off the game's preeminent position, and at the same time affirming the Marlins' need for and valuing of him, has made Ramirez's situation far easier than it might have been. "This is Hanley's team, man," Guillen says. "I said that even when the Marlins [made an offer] for Pujols. Those guys they bring in from outside? Just to help him! Just to help him win the championship."
There is little doubt that the Marlins made the right move by moving Ramirez to third. Reyes is the superior defender, and, as Guillen points out, by no longer playing shortstop the 6'3", 230 pound Ramirez can become even stronger, adding power at the plate without having to worry about compromising his range in the field. Due, perhaps, to Guillen's deep understanding of the psychology of his players, the move appears as if it will be as smooth as could possibly have been expected.