If the Milwaukee Brewers want to contend all season, they need Aramis Ramirez to put up numbers comparable to his last three years on average. They also need him to be on the field for at least 125 starts; that may be the bigger issue.
Ramirez turns 36 years old in June, and he’s coming off a season where he only played in 92 games thanks to a sprained knee. The original injury occurred in spring training and hindered his effectiveness all year. His absence created an obvious hole in the Brewers’ production and muted his counting stats.
Even still, when Ramirez found his way into the lineup, the Brewers’ third baseman was nearly himself, hitting .283 with a .370 OBP. His power slipped a touch, but that’s expected with a leg issue.
Meanwhile, his three-year averages — .299 BA, .363 OBP, .511 SLG and .874 OPS — would be perfectly fine for the 2014 club. Those stats include 22 home runs, 34 doubles and 82 RBI while averaging 130 games.
At this age especially, if Ramirez could guarantee those numbers, Milwaukee coaches and fans would take them in a heartbeat.
Though age is a terrible thing for professional athletes, just two seasons ago Ramirez ripped a league-high 50 doubles, blasted 27 long balls and drove in 105 runs. Those all accounted for his best output since 2008.
In fact, his 2012 campaign could be considered his best overall season. It represented his highest number of wins above replacement (WAR) and offensive WAR, good for seventh in the NL (his best finish). His 80 extra-base hits led the league as well, and Ramirez actually earned 10 percent of MVP votes, good for ninth place.
He also played extremely well in the field that season. Not known for his range or glove, Ramirez posted his second-best defensive WAR season. Though his range was still below league average, he was able to reach more balls, and when he did he ate them up to the tune of a .577 fielding percentage.
The Brewers have a handful of players who could be considered an x-factor in 2014, but the veteran’s poise and production may be the most irreplaceable. The team’s fill-in cleanup hitters were some of the worst in baseball, and Ramirez’s relaxed, consistent approach is a calming presence in the middle of the lineup. Ramirez is a pure professional hitter who pitchers don’t want to face when the game’s on the line.
Not to mention, should the opposition pitch around Ryan Braun, Ramirez represents another legitimate threat.
The concerns about his health, durability and effectiveness over the course of a full season are all warranted. Ramirez made his debut at the age of 20 all the way back in 1998. That makes the upcoming season his 18th overall with nine of them including at least 123 games.
Everyone who is invested in the 2014 Brewers are hoping the old man has one more great season left in his legs.