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The Lindor Ascension: Will Shortstop Be a Short Stay For Jose Ramirez?

Photo - Getty Images/Zimbio.com
You show me someone labeled as a "placeholder" and I'll show you someone who believes he is a little more valuable than most peg him for. I mean, that's like hitting a 30 MPH Will Ferrell eephus pitch. Inherently the person is already undervalued because everyone thinks there is something better coming up and that, regardless of performance, placeholder guy can never contribute to the level of what his eventual replacement will.

It all ends up being so much better when placeholder guy has a bit more in the tank outside of his average MLB-sort-of-maybe-we-think-but-we-can-do-better talent. When placeholder guy is one of those guys who just seems to stick around because he can do things other people can do, but do it with a little more consistency and trust. And you know that because he's "that" type of player.

I don't know if Jose Ramirez is "that" type of player. I'm not a prospect guy. I try and pay attention, but I don't see these guys play everyday and my days of regularly perusing the minor league box scores and attending 10 Akron Aeros games a year ended when my professional career started. What I do know though, is that if there ever was someone to be labeled as a placeholder and fit the description as to what exactly that player is, it would be Jose Ramirez.

Francisco Lindor has been the developmental darling since he was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians with the eighth pick in 2011. And because he's the developmental darling, the eventual heir to the Cleveland Indians shortstop throne that has seen greats like Omar Vizquel, Lou Boudreau, and Ray Chapman sit atop it. The Indians aren't shortstop U by any means, replacing player after player with someone great and they aren't replacing a living legend like some team in New York is, where expectations are high.

But Vizquel himself has elevated not just expectations, but an appreciation for the position during his run. While guys like Alex Rodriguez, who brought a dimension to the position that can give teams an advantage in filling out a lineup card, became more and more desired as the 90's turned into the 2000's, Vizquel was wowing his home fan base with dazzling plays and an unmatched dynamic that was just as valuable as power from the position.

When he left, fans didn't know what they were missing until it was on the side of the milk carton. When the Indians got themselves a power-focused hitting shortstop in Vizquel's replacement, Jhonny Peralta, it was almost like a revolt. Peralta put together some good years for the Tribe, especially when they made a run at the World Series in 2007. He was an absolute top three reason the Tribe advanced as far as they did in the playoffs, coming up with some big hits at important times.

But his defense left much to be desired. Then we started to see someone on the other side of the infield possess the qualities that reminded us of the great days, and so did the Indians. And that is why the eventual shifting made sense. Asdrubal Cabrera was more of a shortstop than Peralta was, even though, as Eric Wedge famously liked to say, the best at making the routine play. Cabrera assumed the throne and for awhile, it seemed like we had our Omar back, right?

Let's just fast forward a bit and realize that as he continued to decline, the Indians became more and more okay with life after Cabrera, so much so, they were okay dealing him despite the fact that his replacement wasn't and isn't even ready. Cabrera was good with the glove for awhile, but as his bat come up with inconsistencies over the past few years, and even at times, got better, his glove started to not look as good as it once did in when comparing it to Jhonny Peralta at short with his feet of a gargoyle statue.

So what about Jose Ramirez? He's replacing the guy that is being replaced by the next guy. What does that make Ramirez? If Lindor is Cabrera's replacement, Ramirez must be the placeholder. A guy with no expectations, but with all the expectations. A guy that is not going to be as good as what is coming, so no one thinks twice about what he is supposed to do for this team in 2015. But also a guy who, if he does not produce, will start to be pinpointed because the guy that is coming will most definitely be able to produce more than Ramirez is.

That's a no-win situation, but also a situation Ramirez can't win, or can he? To tell you the truth, I don't even know. No outlet looks rather appealing for Ramirez. Yes, he's automatically undervalued because he's already going to be producing more than what people will expect, because what's next is always better. But it may not be good enough, even if it is worthwhile production, because again, what's next is always better. And then yeah, if it isn't any good for an extended period of time, then that will just make the clamoring all the more louder.

I mean, if Ramirez breaks through for an extended period of time and Lindor appears ready, the Indians have themselves a commodity on their hands. Options to help them capitalize on making their roster better, whether it is utilizing Ramirez themselves or using him as a piece to get better in other areas.
Photo - Chuck Crow via Cleveland Plain Dealer

What would be enough to get people to not think of Lindor as he waits in the wings? What would be enough for people to be okay with holding off on Lindor for a little while longer? I can't say I know that. Thankfully, people aren't making the decision, the Indians are. And I think deep down, the Indians will know when it will be time for Lindor. There is no time table with a guy like him. He dictates when it is his time, especially with the Indians being in the situation they are in.

The fun part is that we can sit here and try and speculate what will dictate their decision the most. Of course, mostly we'll just wonder when he's coming, because that's all we've heard about. Until then...

I wondered earlier if Ramirez was "that" type of player. That guy that rises above expectations for what is projected of him. A player who can take what is said about him and make it either irrelevant or incorrect. It happens all the time, and I'm not exactly talking about someone who just over-performs for one year for one reason or another. Or talking about someone who blossoms late or figures it out at some point. I'm talking about someone who was thought to not be a major contributor for the team into the future, but ends up making that statement completely wrong, or someone who finds a niche that makes teams want to bring that player in, or other teams to keep that player around.

We're talking about your run-of-the-mill, fight like hell to get on a roster, and then just finds a way to stay there because he does a lot of the things the really talented players don't necessarily need to do because, they are...well, talented. And it goes without saying that all baseball players who sniff the major leagues are talented. But in a more traditional sense of raw talent and ability to be more than an average player.

We're talking about someone who lacks that specific talent that will make them really good. We're talking about someone who makes up for it with sheer will and determination.

You know someone that really fits that description?

David Eckstein. Yes, that scrappy dirt dog who played most of his best years with the Los Angeles Angels and won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. A battle-tested little guy that was told on multiple occasions he wasn't the ideal baseball player, but who would give his team a jolt of energy every time he was involved in something. He's that guy that some people hate and the representative of the player that some fans will not get behind because he brings something you can't measure to the table. Or at least, I was under the impression that you can't measure, but apparently, you can.

He was the epitome of the term grinder before Eric Wedge made the term cool and could define a player by it. He was a guy who made up for any sort of deficiency that teams said he had with an unrivaled will and desire to succeed. Was he the elite talent hot-shot prospect? Nope. Was he a multiple time MVP or the best player at his position on a yearly basis? Nope.

What he did though was carve out a nice long career, playing for winning teams, contributing to a lineup on a daily basis. He even summed up his career in two words: Overachieving Smurf.

He is that guy that a lot of media people will completely trash by actually trying to compliment him. And then the blogosphere will completely jump on for not ACTUALLY bringing much to the table. But he's also the guy that a lot of baseball people appreciate because of those complimentary qualities. Double edged sword there for Eckstein, one of them with jagged razor edges, the other end pretty smooth, but still sharp.

I'm not trying to compare Jose Ramirez to David Eckstein, I'm merely point out the type of player that I think Ramirez embodies. Plus, Eckstein is 5'7" and Ramirez is listed at 5'9", so Jose has a few inches on the former World Series MVP. I met the Eckstein requirement right? Mentioning his height?

Look no further than what Mark Shapiro had to say in his yearly interview with Al Ciammaichella for a great description of what Jose Ramirez is, and how he really matches that Eckstein mold of a gritty guy built off his work, rather than his raw talent.
"Jose is an interesting guy. He's a guy who'€™s not conventional in much that he does. You can'€™t teach the game the way he plays it. He'€™s got a great motor, incredible hands, good instincts, he picks great hops. He's fearless in the way he plays the game. He's obviously got well-above average speed. So he's a guy that adds a dimension to our lineup and to our team that we really haven'€™t had, and I think a jolt of youth and energy to our team last year when he came up and did a great job."
I'm not sure if Jose Ramirez scores a five on Duckworth's Grit Scale, but you never know, setbacks may not discourage him. Yes, Jose has a few more tools in his toolbox that someone in that traditional Eckstein mold may have. As Shapiro mentioned, there is a some defense there as well as speed that would perhaps categorize him as above-average. But the big points to look at are words like motor, fearless and a phrase like "you can't teach the game the way he plays it" speaks to his attitude and approach to the game.

That's what we are specifically talking about, the approach to the game. Jose has some of that raw talent, and perhaps it is what takes him beyond someone like Eckstein. I don't know if Francisco Lindor is the same type of player. He probably doesn't need to be because everyone tells me he is so damn good at everything else. Lindor is a guy that comes in and succeeds based off his raw talent.

Ramirez has spent his time in the minors pretty much with this idea that he isn't as good at everything as Lindor is. So whatever talent he does possess, is simply overlooked. It might as well not be there. Even though it is.

What is there, and the reason that he is the Indians starting shortstop for the beginning of 2015 is because of that other stuff that Shapiro is talking about. The stuff that makes him "interesting". When someone labels you interesting, it should make us all intrigued. Not because someone is telling you that this is an interesting situation, but because there's something more there than what you see. Something more than stats, something more than what the scouts rave about. Something more than what happened at the lower levels of the minor leagues or what will be in the box score at the end of the game.

What can you tell me about Francisco Lindor?

He's great, next big thing. What else you wanna know?

Great, he's good, we know what to expect.

What can you tell me about Jose Ramirez?

Well, he's interesting.

Okay wait a second, why is that?

Some people hate that, and a lot would probably tune me out at this point because they hate the "great intangibles don't make great players" argument. That's not what I'm trying to do though, because like Shapiro's description of Ramirez, this is interesting.

You have someone who has worked his way up in the shadow of someone else's looming presence and will now move forward manning the position that person is supposed to assume, eventually. At some point. What point? I said earlier that Lindor would dictate the Indians movement on him to the major leagues. And that is most definitely the case. Lindor's not going to be held back by Ramirez's performance, because Lindor is the future. A good Ramirez performance would certainly make transitioning Lindor a more of a true "well not until he's absolutely ready" situation, but if Lindor shows he's ready, the Indians will pull the trigger and find a way to make things work.

But Ramirez can really dictate what the Indians decide to do with him, especially in the short term at shortstop. If he gives them a reason to keep him around, especially at that position, he'll make it tough on them to remove him from that spot. But he'll most definitely make it difficult for them to not factor him into their plans.
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