With the Garza trade complete, the Cubs had some room on the 40 man roster. They have filled one of those slots with reserve catcher Max Ramirez, claimed off waivers from Boston. So, what can we expect from Ramirez in 2011? Any chance he might replace Koyie Hill?
Probably not. At least, not yet.
Ramirez is a right handed hitter who, despite some offensive success in the minors, has yet translate his bat into major league success. In the minors he showed some ability in throwing runners out, but has manged to throw out just 5 runners in 29 attempts. An 18% success rate isn’t terrible, but it certainly isn’t great either. While Hill had just an 18% rate last season, his career average is a much healthier 28%.
On offensive, Ramirez probably slots behind Hill again because Hill is a switch hitter. Ramirez’s minor league numbers are great. His career average line reads .298/.396/.476. He also struck out in 25% of his at bats. While no where near the terrifying strike out rates we saw when looking at Chris Young, a 25% career average in the minors is high enough to cause concern. It comes as no surprise that much of Ramirez’s trouble in the majors has been with the strikeout. In just 69 at bats across two season he has wracked up 22, good for a 32% rate. That just won’t cut it, not even compared to Hill’s less than stellar 28% rate in 2010.
So, why would the Cubs give a roster spot to this guy if he is highly unlikely to win a major league job? I have three possible answers.
First, why not? The Cubs still have an empty spot on the 40 man even after picking up Ramirez, so why not see if Rudy Jaramillo can’t work his hitting magic on Ramirez in the spring? If he show no improvement the Cubs can cut him loose with a minimal financial loss. If he can work out his strike out issues and become a productive hitter, the Cubs might have a real option at backup catcher or first base. For the Cubs, it’s a no lose situation.
Second, what happens if Soto gets hurt? Hill is a good backup, but I don’t see anyone being comfortable with Hill taking over long term at catcher if the Cubs are in contention. Ramirez may not be the most exciting insurance policy, but he could prove an effective one. Long term I still think that Wellington Castillo will do just fine as a catcher for the Cubs. But Castillo almost surely will need another year or two in Iowa. Rushing prospects usually does no one any good, and Ramirez helps provide the Cubs with another option at catcher.
Third, who says Wellington Castillo isn’t going to be traded? In an earlier article I made the case that, while Chirinos may be closer to the majors right now, Castillo looks like the better long term prospect and even compares favorably to Soto at similar points in their minor league careers. With Soto presumably holding the starting job for the Cubs for several years to come, Castillo could be a valuable trading chip. I don’t expect this to happen, but if it does the Cubs would now have Ramirez holding the fort in Iowa, ready to take over in Chicago should the need arise. And there is no doubt that the Cubs could still be looking at big trades. They have to solve the long term question at first base eventually, and it certainly does not look like that it will come from within the system.
I don’t think we’ll see much of Max Ramirez in Wrigley this season, and I’d not be surprised if he were to be waived or traded before the end of spring training. Mediocre defense and a high strikeout rate aren’t the tools he needs to break into the majors for good. If he can solve either of those problems though… especially his offensive issues… he could still have a role to play with the Cubs down the road.