Opinion: It’s time to start treating Jose Ramirez like the MVP candidate he is

Jack Kopanski

To say the Cleveland Indians have limped into the second half of the season would be an understatement.

Starting with a loss to the Detroit Tigers in the last game prior to the All-Star break, they’ve lost four straight games for the first time since 2015, and in their first series back from the All-Star break, were promptly swept by Oakland A’s, scoring only six runs in the three game series.

This stretch is a microcosm of what the Indians’ season has been to this point: Coming off a magical 2016 World Series run, fans were expecting much of the same dominance with the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion and the return of Michael Brantley.

After an impressive sweep of the Texas Rangers in Arlington to start the season, the team has lacked consistency where it is needed the most.

Behind Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, the rotation is shaky at best. Encarnacion’s bat didn’t get going until late-May. After a hot-start, third-year sensation Francisco Lindor has seen a sharp decline in production offensively and a growing number of defensive slip-up’s. And former All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, plagued by injuries, has seen career-low numbers this season.

The Tribe are still hanging onto first place in the American League Central by a shrinking thread, but in the midst of all this negativity and under-performance, there has remained one continuous bright spot for this team.

The bright-haired, helmet-losing, Dominican-born, switch-hitting third baseman, Jose Ramirez.

After finishing tied for 17th in last season’s MVP voting, and being named to his first All-Star Game this year, Ramirez is making his case to win the award this year.

His overall stat line is inarguably the best on the team, as he leads the club in hits (111), batting average (.326), on-base percentage (.381) and runs scored (62) and is second in home runs (17) and runs batted in (48), behind only Encarnacion and Lonnie Chisenhall, respectively.

Those RBI and hits numbers are also good enough for second-best in each category in the American League. While he is not driving in as many runs or hitting the long-ball as well as others are, the consistent output he brings to this Cleveland team is enough to make a legitimate case for him to be named American League MVP.

There will be those that make the argument that he is not playing in a big enough market, or that the team isn’t performing well enough for him to be considered, or even those that might point to the almighty wins above replacement number and say it isn’t high enough.

What these arguments fail to take into account is what the title of the award actually is. It is meant to award the player with the most value to their club, not the best player. While more often than not the two go hand-in-hand, it is not a direct correlation between the two.

With reigning American League MVP Mike Trout returning from an injury this past Friday, it would take a herculean effort for the Angels superstar to win his second consecutive MVP, and his third in four years.

That would make any of the Houston Astros’ “Big Three” of second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer, Ramirez’s primary competitor for the crown.

While New York Yankees rookie Aaron Judge has been having a monster year as well and clobbering seemingly every ball that comes by him, and all but locked up the Rookie of the Year title, a player has not won ROY and MVP in the same season since Ichiro Suzuki did it in 2001.

Halfway through the year, what is certainly clear is that this MVP race is still wide open, and just the fact that Ramirez is in consideration is incredible. The fact that I am even writing this article is astonishing to me.

Just two to three seasons ago, I was calling for Ramirez to be cut, traded or anything that would get him off this team.

Now, not only is he one of the best performing members of the Indians both offensively and defensively, he has become a fan favorite.

When the announcement came that he had made his first All-Star team, he and his translator posted a video thanking the fans for voting him in. When the translator started speaking, however, he cut her off and said in, albeit broken English, how much he loved the fans in Cleveland and thanked them for their support, in a gesture that couldn’t help but make you laugh and smile.

Whether Ramirez walks away with title of Most Valuable Player in the American League at the end of the year, there is no denying that his progression to where he is now, while arduous, has been well, well worth it.

Jack Kopanski is a guest columnist. Contact him at [email protected].