What if a guy with five top-six American League MVP finishes in the past six seasons has yet to author his signature season? What if a guy guaranteed to play for Cleveland for another six years still has his most prolific seasons ahead of him? What if a guy with a microscopic number of deficiencies in his game is positioned to piece everything together in 2023?

Is it possible that everything is aligned for the 2023 season to be José Ramírez’s best yet, for him to capture his first MVP honor after so many near misses? Shohei Ohtani and others might have something to say about award season, but Ramírez could be in store for a career year.

It starts with this: He isn’t spending his spring stressing about whether he’ll be a Guardian or a Padre or a Blue Jay. He has the security of a long-term extension, a deal that was in peril until the final minute of spring training last year, when he forced the issue and willed a seven-year pact into existence.

“It’s way different to just be able to focus and concentrate on the field,” Ramírez said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “It’s completely different this year.”


Two functioning hands

Ramírez sat out two games in Los Angeles in mid-June as he and the club determined whether he’d undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right hand or if he could play through the pain. His preference was to stay in the lineup, rather than be sidelined for up to eight weeks.

Ramírez before those two days off: .305/.397/.642 slash line.

Ramírez after those two days off: .264/.329/.437 slash line.

He acknowledged “sometimes you want to do things and you’re not able to, so your game gets a little bit limited. It was very difficult.” He said it affected “every aspect” of his game, not just the noticeable way it sapped his power, and that it required extra treatment, care and time to manage the pain each day.