Happy Hanley maximizing talent with Dodgers
The Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez, and what they gave up to get him wasn't exactly a superstar-type package.They sent Nate Eovaldi and Minor Leaguer Scott McGouth -- both hard-throwers, though perhaps not stars in the making -- to the Marlins. They also committed to the roughly $38 million remaining on Ramirez's contract through 2014, but this could prove to be chump change given the new ownership and the looming new TV deal. We knew all this at the time of the trade on July 25. What we didn't know was what, exactly, the Dodgers were getting back. Would this be the electric Hanley Ramirez who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award at 22 and won an NL batting title at 25? Or would it be the sullen Hanley Ramirez who was hitting .246 at the time of the trade while dealing with a self-inflicted hand injury suffered when he punched a cooling fan in the dugout? It's a small sample, sure, but if Ramirez's first 27 games with the Dodgers are any indication, Los Angeles might have pulled off the steal of the swapping season. In those 27 games, Ramirez drove in 29 runs and hit .308 with an .897 OPS and 13 extra-base hits. Most telling of all, he's smiling again. "The trade has changed everything," Ramirez said. "The way you think, everything you have on your mind, everything has turned 100 percent around. It's a new beginning. You start to think in a different way." It's fair to question and critique Ramirez for not bringing that kind of attitude to Miami's dugout on a daily basis. Three years ago, in the midst of his .342 season, it would have been unimaginable to move Ramirez. He was to be the Marlins' franchise face. But that face was too often fixed in a frown. Ramirez developed a reputation for doing things his own way -- after he cut his hand punching that fan, for instance, he neglected to use antibiotics, prolonging the problem. When he was hitting .300, Ramirez's quirks were something the team could live with. But as his average dipped, so, too, did Miami's patience with him. And so a trade was orchestrated, with the knowledge that Ramirez, who grew up following the Dodgers from his native Dominican, wanted to play for L.A. He also wanted to play shortstop, the position he lost when the Marlins signed Jose Reyes. While we can learn a lot from heat maps and scouting reports and all that seamhead stuff, the human element of the game reveals itself in situations like this, because Ramirez's comfort in his new surroundings has helped bring out the best in him as a player. "I think the change was a good thing for both sides," said reliever Randy Choate, who also made the move from Miami in the trade. "He's smiling a lot and seems to be enjoying playing the game. Over there, I think he felt all the expectations. One bad game and people would come down so hard on him. With Reyes playing there, you would have thought he could be the role player he is here. But everything seemed to be focused on him, and it was usually negative. Coming over here, I think he's happy just to get some positive feedback." Ramirez is not the first player in recent years to arrive to the Dodgers' clubhouse carrying baggage other than his luggage. Manny Ramirez's relationship with the Red Sox had soured and his production was inconsistent in 2008, but his post-Trade Deadline performance with the Dodgers that season is now the stuff of L.A. baseball legend (even if all those "Mannywood" T-shirts and dreadlocks caps had a short shelf life). Vicente Padilla was generally regarded as a clubhouse cancer when the Rangers cut him loose in '09. But in L.A., he was effective enough to become the Dodgers' Game 3 starter in the NL Division Series. Hanley's situation, though, differs from those others in a very distinct way. This is not anticipated to be a short-term relationship -- at least, not in the Dodgers' eyes. "Hanley is a 28-year-old guy in his prime who we have under contract for two more years, and who we look at as a building block with Matt [Kemp] and Andre [Ethier] in the middle of our order," manager Don Mattingly said. "All of a sudden we have three [players] right in the middle of our order, and in their prime." And so keeping Hanley happy will be an important element of the Dodgers' future. They've been on the right track from the day Ramirez arrived, with Mattingly putting him at short and coach Manny Mota telling Ramirez to just be himself and not worry about pressure or expectations. "It's a different feeling," Ramirez said. "You know you're going out there with a group of guys like this, competing every day. They pull for each other, and you know you have to be on the same page." Ramirez prefers to leave the past where it belongs and not talk much about his time with the Marlins, the Dodgers' opponent this weekend. But he does point out the difference in atmosphere between Miami and L.A. "It's unbelievable," Ramirez said. "The Dodgers have big crowds every day. They don't miss anything, they cheer through the whole game, and it's loud. It's an amazing feeling when you're on the field with that kind of crowd watching you." Hanley has given them plenty to watch, and he said the key was an adjustment he had actually started to make in his final days with the Marlins -- an adjustment that has helped him catch up to the inside pitches that plagued him for the better part of the past two years. "My swing was long," Ramirez said. "So I shortened it up. I was swinging at pitches that were balls. I was getting myself out." So, yeah, there are physical elements at play here, in addition to the psychological ones. With a 2 1/2-game deficit in the NL West after a humbling sweep at the hands of the Giants, the Dodgers are going to need both of those elements in their favor. It's too soon to know if they've acquired the burgeoning superstar Ramirez appeared to be from 2006-10, but the early returns are overwhelmingly positive. "There's a ton of talent there," Mattingly said. And in his first month in Dodger blue, Hanley has let that talent show.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.