The fire sale has begun.
The Indians dealt closer Bob Wickman to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon for Max Ramirez, a 21 year old catcher playing for the Braves class A affiliate in Rome, Georgia.
Wickman joins a Braves bullpen that has been abysmal all season. The Braves have burned through four closers, and have blown a mind boggling twenty saves through their first 95 games of the season. The Braves have won five of six games since the All-Star break to get back in the mix for the NL wildcard, which is a jumbled mess that is anyones for the taking. Despite the fact that the Braves are just 45-50 on the season, that's good enough for second place in the NL East, and puts them just five games behind the 50-45 Cincinnati Reds, who would be the wild card team from the NL if the postseason started today.
As a "10 and 5 guy" Wickman had to approve this deal, and had the right to veto any trade. On the brink of retirement two seaason ago before having a solid 2005 season for the Tribe ... Wickie was talked into coming back for one more season by Indians general manager Mark Shapiro after the team struck out in their attempts to sign free agents B.J. Ryan and Trevor Hoffman. One would have to assume that these will be the final 70 games of Wickman's career, and he gets one more stab at a postseason appearance with a Braves team that has underachieved all year, but has played better as of late.
As for the player the Indians recieved in return for Wickman, Max Ramirez appears to be an OK, not great catching prospect. He was rated Atlanta's 20th best prospect by Baseball America before this season, but their 6th best by John Sickels, one of the top minor league analysts/columnists around. He was hitting .285 with nine homers in 267 at-bats for the Braves' Class A Rome affiliate, and was picked for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
The Braves' minor league "Baby Braves" blog has the following to say about Ramirez:
Max was signed by the Braves as an undrafted free agent in 2002 out of Venezuela. He spent 2003 playing ball outside of the United States before he joined the GCL Braves in 2004. He played pretty well but not great in 2004 in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .275/.339/.480 with 19 walks and 50 strikeouts. The best part of his game was his 8 home runs. But he really didn't show much else. He really wasn't on any radars until 2005 when he was promoted to Danville. He was the co-MVP of the Appalachian League along with teammate Eric Campbell as he hit .347/.424/.527. Max really improved his plate discipline as he walked 31 times against 41 strikeouts. Ramirez had great numbers but was still relatively unknown as Eric Campbell was generating most of the publicity as the heir apparent to Chipper Jones.
Max Ramirez as promoted to Rome in 2006 and picked up right where he left off. Max's fast start lead him to be selected as the starting catcher for the 2006 South Atlantic League all-star game. Ramirez was read hot in April and May with a batting average well over .300. However, he has really cooled down a lot in June and his batting average has dipped to .278. He has probably hit the wall in his first full professional season. In 2004 and 2005, Max never surpassed 239 at-bats. I have a feeling he will get a second wind this season and break out of his current slump. His overall numbers are pretty good as he is hitting .278/.393/.439. I really like the fact that Max can get on base without hitting as he has drawn 42 walks in 230 at-bats.
Max's future position is still somewhat in the air. He has played catcher the last couple of seasons but has spent much of 2006 as a DH. He has had previous experience in the infield and could turn out to be a third baseman. At 5-11 he is too short to be a first baseman. I think he'll continue to be a catcher known for his offense and not for his defense. His offense is why he is a top prospect. I think Max projects as a very good hitter in the major leagues and possibly a .300 hitter. His plate discipline is what sets him apart from most other Braves prospects. He should also develop decent 15-20 home run pop as well. With many fine catchers in the Braves organization, his position is still up in the air but no one questions his bat.
While it's a little disappointing that Wickman could not yield the Indians a player that could potentially contribute in 2007, or even a better prospect than a class A catcher that is being projected as a possible DH, catcher most certainly is a position of weakness in the Indians organization. And with concerns over Victor Martinez's ability to sufficiently field the position long term, the Tribe could ahve done worse than adding a young catcher with some pop. Additionally, there was no chance of Wickman being on this team next year, so being able to get anything at all for him is nice ....especially seeing as how he could have vetoed any deal. Ramirez appears to be a guy that will compete for a role with the team in 2008.
Chances are high that this is just the first of a series of trades for the Indians and GM Mark Shapiro. Guillermo Mota, Aaron Boone, Ben Broussard, and Ronnie Belliard all could also be dealt between now and the July 31st trading deadline, and there has also been some recent speculation that the team could look to deal either Paul Byrd or Jake Westbrook for a major league ready outfielder.