With Kershaw locked up, what about Hanley?
Dodgers could look to extend star shortstop, who will be a free agent after 2014
LOS ANGELES -- Hey, don't forget about Hanley Ramirez.
With the face of the franchise, Clayton Kershaw, locked up so he can't turn free agent after this season (official announcement on Friday), Dodgers observers quickly turned to the thought of adding Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to an already loaded starting rotation.
But what about the best hitter in the batting order -- Ramirez? He still can become a free agent after this season, unless the Dodgers extend his contract as well.
Extending Kershaw -- at age 25 with intangibles off the charts to go with two National League Cy Young Awards -- was a no-brainer, but decisions on Tanaka and Ramirez are a little more complicated.
With Tanaka, the Dodgers' interest has seemed lukewarm at best, especially in comparison to a year ago when they were all-in to add Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, as well as Zack Greinke.
Including a $20 million posting fee to his Japanese team, Tanaka will cost about double the Dodgers' $62 million investment in Ryu, and talent evaluators are uncertain exactly where Tanaka would fit in the rotation, but it would be no higher than No. 3.
If Tanaka is set on playing on the West Coast in general, and with the Dodgers in particular, and he's willing to make his decision on factors other than total financial package, the Dodgers will be involved.
If he's looking to be the star of stars on his new team and is in search of a bidding war to rocket his payday to the max, baseball sources indicate the Dodgers will more likely bow out, unless their billionaire owners rule otherwise. Even if Tanaka is an incremental upgrade in the middle of the rotation, his signing would re-engage the Dodgers with the Japanese market.
Tanaka's status will be resolved by a Jan. 24 deadline. Ramirez's situation could extend into Spring Training or longer, but he figures to have a greater impact on the club's fortunes than anyone other than Kershaw.
Ramirez will earn $16 million in the final year of a six-year, $70 million extension he received from the Marlins in 2008. In the first year of that deal, Ramirez won a batting title but never duplicated that success with the Marlins, and by 2012, after a falling out with manager Ozzie Guillen, was traded to the Dodgers with a reputation for being immature.
Playing for Don Mattingly, however, Ramirez has been a model citizen and a lethal offensive weapon, as long as he stays on the field. But that's another area that makes an extension dicey, because Ramirez, now 30, suffered four injuries last year and played in only 86 games. Still, he finished eighth in the NL MVP voting.
A couple of Ramirez's injuries last year were freaky (torn thumb ligament, cracked rib), but the chronic lower back issue he tried to play through in September requires constant management.
A Ramirez extension would probably come with an agreement that, at some point, he accept a move from shortstop to third base, depending on the arrival of 19-year-old infield prospect Corey Seager. Now a shortstop with the body of a third baseman, Seager has yet to play above Class A.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.