Likely MVP finalist José Ramírez is the Guardians' 'secret superstar'
Guardians third baseman José Ramírez is in the running for American League MVP this year. The honor is awarded by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. It would be the fourth time in his career as a finalist, which commentator Terry Pluto says is a worthy honor for the “anchor in the heart of the Guardians lineup.”
Ramírez will likely fall short of the award again this year, overshadowed by Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who could end up with more than 60 homers.
Still, Pluto said there’s a distinct difference between the two. Judge is backed by veteran hitters such as Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton. Ramírez has carried the team on his back all season, and he has the Guardians in a first-place battle in the Central Division.
“He’s emerged as a leader, but a patient one on a team with the youngest roster in Major League Baseball,” Pluto said.
With another month of regular-season baseball left, Ramírez has already amassed 106 RBI this season (as of 8/30/22), trailing Judge (110) as the most in baseball. The last player to have at least 106 RBIs in a team’s first 125 games of a season was Travis Hafner in 2006.
Pluto said Ramírez is a special player.
“Just watching him the other day, and he hit another one of those balls that looked like a single to left field and he just bolted out of the batter's box and swings around first base. He goes flying into second base, head first slide, dirt in the air, helmet off. And he’s right in under the tag, a double. This guy is amazing in terms of how hard he plays all the time and plays with such passion,” Pluto said.
And Pluto said not only is Ramírez special, but he’s also not your average stats leader.
“Like Aaron Judge, who is hitting a zillion home runs for the Yankees, he's like six-foot-eight with power. If you even think of some of the guys that Cleveland had over the years, like Albert Belle — muscles bulging, and Jim Thome was a very big, physical guy. José is stout, shall we say, but he's certainly not big. He's like five-foot-eight,” Pluto said.
Then there’s the contract extension. Ramírez signed a seven-year, $141 million deal to stay in Cleveland, well below market value.
“Often when a player signs a big contract extension or goes to a different team for a big contract, they struggled. We saw that with Francisco Lindor when he left Cleveland went to the Mets. He had one of his worst years ever. José is having his best year ever and he's had great years before,” Pluto said.
And, unlike Lindor, Ramírez wasn’t a hot prospect.
“He was the one signed off the back diamond of the Dominican for $50,000, which is the kind of the basic, low-rent bonus your player gets," Pluto said. "Meanwhile, Lindor got almost $2 million as a first-round draft pick.”
And Pluto says Ramírez signing the contract extension set the stage for a surprising season.
“I don't know if Cleveland's going to make the playoffs or win the Central Division or not, but just imagine what would have happened had José not signed that extension," Pluto said. "I know for a fact he was very likely to be traded to either San Diego or Toronto. And even if they were waiting, that would have sunk the team's morale. Jose's personality is stamped all over this team, even though you don't hear him talk much. And I just think he's a secret superstar.”