02/03/11 6:16 PM EST
Alexei, White Sox secure four-year extension
Shortstop takes big step toward becoming lifelong South Sider
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
The four-year, $32.5 million contract extension agreed upon between the two sides and officially announced Thursday will go a long way toward making Ramirez a lifetime baseball resident on Chicago's South Side.
"It really comes down to when I first got here, honestly I felt like I was at home," said Ramirez, through translator and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez, during Thursday's conference call to discuss the extension. "I felt just like I was in Cuba. It's a different style of baseball that's played here.
"But when I arrived, I felt comfortable and like I was in the right place," Ramirez added.
Under terms of the new extension, Ramirez, 29, will earn $5 million in 2012, $7 million in 2013, $9.5 million in 2014 and $10 million in 2015. The White Sox hold a $10 million option for 2016, which also includes a $1 million buyout.
Ramirez holds a present base salary of $2.75 million courtesy of the White Sox picking up his 2011 contractual option in early December. The shortstop opted out of the final year of his four-year deal that would have paid him $1.1 million. The White Sox could have let Ramirez go to arbitration and had until Dec. 15 to make this particular call.
Extending Ramirez over the next four or five years was almost just as much of a no-brainer for both sides as exercising his 2011 option.
"Once we felt we had the best deal we could, we went ahead and we did that," said Ramirez, who added that Jaime Torres, his representative, has been in constant contact with the White Sox during the offseason.
"He's good, and we like him," White Sox general manager Ken Williams told MLB.com in rather matter-of-fact terms. "That's why we gave him the extension."
This 2011 campaign marks the third season in which Ramirez anchors the White Sox shortstop position. Some people may have forgotten Ramirez as the team's Opening Day center fielder in 2008, followed by his move to second base for 121 games.
Gordon Beckham currently anchors the White Sox second base slot, giving the White Sox one of the best current double-play combinations in the American League and for years to come. The two worked well together in their first season up the middle, and Beckham saw a deeper bond forged through their short recent offseason stint spent at Camp Cora in Miami.
"I've been real happy with the way we handled things at Camp Cora," said Beckham of his work with Ramirez. "It looks like we've kind of meshed better in the offseason, and you don't really expect that to happen."
"We know each other's styles and mannerisms on the field," Ramirez said. "I feel really comfortable with him being my double-play mate."
A communication gap exists between Beckham and Ramirez, with Beckham speaking English and Ramirez speaking Spanish, so it's a good thing they are familiar with each other's on-field moves. Actually, it's hard to know precisely where Ramirez is going to be because his defensive range is so vast.
Through his .282 average, 18 home runs and 70 RBIs, Ramirez captured the 2010 Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger as the top player on offense among AL shortstops. Ramirez deserved the Gold Glove, as well, despite committing 20 errors.
Stepping up to an elite level as one of the game's most complete shortstops comes from the confidence Ramirez takes to the field every game. It's confidence originally instilled in him by Ozzie Guillen and reinforced over the past three years by the White Sox manager.
Guillen never downplayed Ramirez's wide-ranging shortstop ability. In fact, Guillen, a darn good White Sox shortstop during his playing days, said Ramirez would make White Sox fans forget he ever played the position.
Credit was given by Ramirez to Guillen after the contract was announced. Guillen seemed happy to have the organization show appreciation for Ramirez's contributions.
"Outstanding. This guy is going to be one [heck of a] ballplayer," said Guillen during a Wednesday interview on the Waddle and Silvy Show on Chicago's ESPN 1000. "He is already one [heck of a] player."
"Ozzie trusts my decisions on the field," Ramirez said. "That confidence instills a lot of confidence in me. Ozzie, having played the position, he knows that confidence is important at shortstop."
To prepare for the 2011 season, Ramirez has focused more on weight training as opposed to cardiovascular exercise and has put on good muscle weight. The slender 175-pounder already has shown off a power bat with 54 career homers over three years, and as Williams pointed out, has been a clutch hitter during that time.
April struggles, featuring a career .200 average during that month, marks the lone shortcoming in Ramirez's move to the United States. It's the sort of complete effort that prompted Guillen to list his shortstop with Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki and Florida's Hanley Ramirez as the best in the game at this position.
For the next four years, and possibly five, Ramirez will be proving Guillen's point as part of the White Sox. And Ramirez hopes to continue developing as a major part of White Sox titles.
"Baseball is a complex game, and every year, you learn something different," Ramirez said. "I keep adjusting my game and upping my game, season after season, working on how people have adjusted to me.
"Ever since Jaime told me I had four years with the White Sox [after coming over from Cuba], I set my sights on getting better every day and after every game. My wife and kids have played a major role in keeping me focused and motivated. I don't expect to win awards or different accolades. I just want to play better every season.
"I'm so happy with where I'm at and what I've done so far," Ramirez said. "If I'm lucky enough and can play my entire career here, it's something I would love to do."