How can one man have spent the majority of his career outside of your organization and still be one of the most important figures in its history? I’ve thought about that question a lot recently and I firmly believe those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The trade of Aramis Ramirez to the Chicago Cubs in 2003 is one of those moments worth studying.
First, let me say this isn’t going to be just another sour grapes piece. Bad trades happen all the time and we’ll just get sidetracked if we start going down that road with no context. Instead, let’s look at this by way of the lessons that we, and the Pirates, should have learned from not only the trade of Aramis but his entire career.
Let’s begin by telling his story a bit, Ramirez was a Dominican born player who signed with Pittsburgh at the age of 16, 4 years later he made his debut with the Pirates at third base in 1998. He would struggle to get his footing until 2001 when he really broke out hitting 34 homeruns with an average in the .300 range. His defense was less than ideal to be kind.
When Aramis retired, he did so with a career WAR around 34. When the Pirates traded the youngster in 2003, he had a cumulative WAR of 1.3. The lesson learned here is that a youngster trying to make their way in the league, perhaps WAR is not the be all end all for determining whether they are a good player or not. Way back when this trade was consummated, WAR was not a thing, at least not the way it is today. I hear the same thing today all the time about players being “worthless” based on their current figure. WAR is a guide, a useful tool to help determine the value of a player, but it isn’t a completed story. A four-year sample is not as powerful as a 10-year sample.
Trade Talent for More Talent
Sound familiar? Josh Bell’s career lines up very nicely with Aramis’ as they both struggled with consistency when they got here, they both had a huge breakout season and defense was the worst part of each of their games.
In 2003 Pittsburgh erupted to the news that Aramis had been traded to the Cubs, and that was following a sub-par season that saw his average drop to .234 with 18 homeruns following his stellar 2001 season that saw him hit .300 with 34 homeruns. So why was Pittsburgh upset? Seems like we should have been saying he was a DH trapped in the NL, or a defensive liability. One thing that hasn’t changed in damn near 20 years, the Pirates didn’t feel they could afford to sign him long term. So, they moved him with two remaining years of control. I could detail who they got back for him, but trust me, no household names in the mix. In fact, I’ll go a step further, if you remember them at all, its because you are bitter about this trade, not because you remember something they did on the field.
Bob Nutting Has Destroyed this Franchise Alone
Well, he hasn’t helped it or turned it around, but he also was not responsible for this event. Everything I wrote in the last entry up there is still happening today, think maybe the system has a little something to do with decisions made here? If anything, I could use Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco to illustrate the Pirates trying to avoid this very situation. Signing all three of these players to contracts that ensured they would be here at least a season past arbitration is a direct response to the memory of moving Ramirez too early. Still, the drumbeat of the necessity of moving Bell goes on. I mean, did I mention they even tossed in a salary dump of Kenny Loften to get this deal through?
Once Aramis was traded to the Cubbies, his defense actually got worse. He led the majors in 2003 with 33 errors at the hot corner. Man, if his name was Pedro, they probably would have benched him for Sean Rodriguez. He became a steady third basemen as his career progressed, and spent his entire career in the NL, never becoming a DH. Like any skill, it takes time and patience to develop.
Aramis is not one of the best players to ever swing a bat and he was in no danger of being confused with Pops if he spent his entire career in Pittsburgh. If the franchise could at least learn from his story and avoid repeating the mistakes and mistaken narratives that created many of the decisions made, perhaps Ramirez could yet become one of the Pirates’ most important figures.