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White Sox offseason plan roundup: Alexei Ramirez's option

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Poll of amateur GMs is evenly divided on whether to retain shortstop for one more year at the non-negligible cost of $10 million

Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images

When opening the South Side Sox Offseason Plan Project, I was most curious about how people would handle Alexei Ramirez's $10 million option, because I was ready to be swayed.

If Vegas had to establish an over-under for Ramirez's worth for 2015, it might very well set the bar at $9 million, which is the effective dollar value we're considering when factoring in the $1 million buyout. My simple evaluation method -- "How easily could the likely outcomes make you feel foolish?" -- really doesn't work, because there are arguments for regretting either decision thanks to his bipolar season.

He was worse than replacement-level during the first half, while he's endured similar downswings before, one of them is going to leave him down for the count. Next year might be that time, considering he's 34 and has played six straight seasons of 154 games or more.

On the other hand, he was a respectable shortstop during the second half, and if you can retain one of those for a one year and $9 million, it's kinda greedy to pass it up. One more rebound season isn't too much to ask.

And then you have to consider how much of his decline was physical versus mental. There are signs of the former in the quality of his contact and his defensive metrics. But Robin Ventura alluded to personal issues, and there's a precedent for that. He lost a year to that before with the murder of his father-in-law in 2013, then made his first All-Star team the next season. Maybe it was Minnie Minoso's death this time, and that literally can't happen again. But if he internalizes such matters, how will he handle a walk year?

Around and around we go, and it basically comes down to a classic tug-of-war between security and ambition. You could do better for $9 million ... but you could also do worse, not just because of position scarcity, but also because Ramirez's durability is damn near impossible to match.

So I'd hoped that the offseason plans might result in a sturdy majority that would push me in one direction or another.

Nope. With 79 White Sox offseason plans accounted for, here's how it breaks down:

  • Pick up: 35
  • Buy out: 39
  • Rework his deal: 5

If you only look at it in binary outcomes -- keeping him or letting him go -- keeping him wins by one plan. If you account for the risk of potentially losing him when trying to sign him for a lesser amount, then that route bull-mooses the pick-up party, and buying him out wins the plurality.

Of the 39 plans that didn't retain Ramirez as the starting shortstop, 18 different replacements were floated, 16 of which are probably attainable, for better or for worse.

In-house solutions
  • Tyler Saladino (IslandSox, Kevin Chambers, mjarney89, Munizzi23, pdfitz12, rl_boiler, Shoeless_Joe_, thehitlesswonder, walterfan34, hefty9, W.H. Taft)
  • Carlos Sanchez (MadManx)
  • Tim Anderson (PittJr11)

First-half Ramirez invites Saladino into the picture. If you believe that the second half performance was less credible, then it makes it easier to rationalize rolling the dice with Saladino for the league minimum and use that $9 million elsewhere. This is where Ramirez's durability comes into play, because even if Saladino can tread water, he can't Saladino can't guarantee 150 games by himself, and there might not be a safety net.

I expected to see a few more nods for Sanchez at short, even though it's probably best sticking to his core competencies while waiting to see if his bat comes around. Starting Anderson would result in a rush job, but seeing his name serves as a reminder that he's probably one year away, which gives Ramirez an advantage over the ...

Free agents
  • Ian Desmond (ChiSoxCharlie, GreekSox23, Steve_Bidochka)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (Kyle321N, Trooper Galactus)
  • Stephen Drew (Jasmits12)
  • Cliff Pennington (PolishPrince34)
  • Sean Rodriguez (soxfan50)

If you believe that 2015 was an easy-to-explain down year for Desmond, then he might be good for whatever money he gets (which could be depressed by a qualifying offer). He's a better defender than Cabrera, whose high offensive floor makes him an OK stopgap starter --but you could say the same for Ramirez.

Drew hasn't been the same since the qualifying offer, and he's also been a second baseman since. Pennington and Rodriguez have played so little shortstop that Saladino would be a better option.

Trades for veterans
  • Starlin Castro (gibby32, JofpGallagher, sophist, The Armchair GM)
  • Jed Lowrie (AlbertBelleFan)
  • Jose Reyes (Captain Wookie)
  • Zack Cozart (GrinnellSteve)

Castro's appeal is understandable, as he's a three-time All-Star who is being squeezed out. He's also guaranteed $41 million over the next four years, which means that you'd have to account for him if and when Anderson pushes him out.

Cozart is entering his arbitration years, but he only played 55 games in 2015 due to a nasty knee injury. The Reds have Eugenio Suarez as a cheaper, healthier replacement if they're wary of Cozart's rising cost against his recovery, but the Reds may want to retain both, as that combination gave them the National League's best shortstop production, and for a bargain. They can absorb a mild raise there.

Lowrie misses all the games Ramirez doesn't. Reyes is merely collateral damage for acquiring Nolan Arenado.

Trades for unproven starters
  • Brad Miller (beautox, MikeyBarrett'sSadRightHook, striker)
  • Jean Segura (DutchySox)
  • Eugenio Suarez (Sox2727)
  • Deven Marrero (asinwreck)
  • Alex Bregman (for GoodnessSakeTakeAPitch)
  • Corey Seager (whitesoxsavant)

If Seth Smith never hit that game-winning homer on the final day of the season, Brad Miller might've cost the Sox their protected draft pick.

Segura isn't unproven in the classic sense, as he's averaged 145 games over the last three years. It's just that his best is close to Ramirez's worst, so you'd have to bank on heretofore unrealized development.

We covered Suarez, and Marrero is about a year behind Suarez in his development  -- he's on the verge of becoming a good utility man candidate at the very least. There's a Boston-based article speculating that his emergence could make Brock Holt available for pitching help, if you wanted a 24th potential third baseman.

Seager and Bregman aren't going anywhere.

Star-divide

When running through all the possibilities, it does make it easier to appreciate Ramirez's everyday presence, even if you're down on his abilities. Trying to find a one-year stopgap for a few million dollars less seems like it wouldn't be worth the effort.

If that's the case, then two routes make the most sense:

Cheap defensive specialist: If you can get a noteworthy upgrade with the glove (Marrero fits that particular bill; Saladino might be a stretch) while saving most of that $9 million, that could end up paying off in the long run.

Retain Ramirez, then bite the bullet and spend more: Retaining Ramirez means the Sox get the security of his durability, a short-term commitment that won't block their best prospect, and Saladino as support in case fewer games would help prop up Ramirez's production (and a theoretical in-season replacement if extreme scenarios are realized).

That's not the most exciting use of $9 million, but since his contract comes off the books after the season, the Sox might be inspired to engage in some creative accounting to work around that temporary expense.