Signings of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval give Red Sox new look
Low-cost, conservative moves gave the Red Sox a championship in 2013. That model collapsed from within last season and the team fell back into last place. Shiny prospects were overmatched and veterans underperformed, leaving the Red Sox with an offense that ranked among the worst in the game.
Starting Sunday night and extending through a wild Monday, the Red Sox dramatically changed the look of their lineup and took some risks. After signing one of the best hitters available in Hanley Ramirez, the Sox also landed third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Both players were in Boston on Monday for physicals and will be introduced on Tuesday afternoon at Fenway Park.
“[About] to give pitchers nightmares,” wrote David Ortiz on Twitter.
Ramirez agreed to a four-year, $88 million deal that includes a $22 million option for 2019 based on playing time. Sandoval accepted a five-year contract in the range of $100 million.
Gustavo Vazquez, Sandoval’s agent, confirmed his client’s deal with the Red Sox. The Giants released a statement wishing Sandoval well and praising his connection to San Francisco fans.
The Red Sox stayed silent, officially anyway.
Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans told the San Francisco Chronicle that Sandoval was emotional about the decision but, “ready for a new challenge.”
San Francisco offered Sandoval five years and $95 million and was willing to continue negotiating. But the 28-year-old Sandoval, a Venezuelan who resides in Miami, will be closer to home in Boston and eventually could transition to DH once David Ortiz retires.
With the exception of 98 games at third base, Ramirez has been a shortstop throughout his major league career. But a Red Sox source said Monday the team plans to stay with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and would use Ramirez elsewhere on the field.
Advanced statistics showed Ramirez was one of the worst shortstops in baseball last season. His play at third base has been nearly as dreadful.
With the exception of a handful of games in winter ball early in his career, Ramirez never has played the outfield. But the Red Sox could get his potent bat into the lineup as their left fielder.
That would add to what is already a crowded outfield for the Red Sox. The addition of Ramirez almost certainly means the team will trade from its surplus.
Given the surprising decision to sign Ramirez, predicting what the Sox do next is risky. But according to major league sources, the Sox continue to negotiate with Jon Lester on a return to Boston to fill one of the holes in their rotation.
Lester has met with an assortment of teams, including the Chicago Cubs, and will confer with the St. Louis Cardinals later this week. But the Red Sox continue to view him as a priority.
Accommodating Lester could require the Red Sox to shed payroll.
Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, and Shane Victorino are candidates to be moved, with Cespedes having the most value. He has one year and $10.5 million remaining on his contract and is coming off a 22-home run, 100-RBI season.
His righthanded power and relatively low cost could return a mid-rotation starting pitcher — or more if part of a package.
Craig hit .215 last season, hurting his value as a trade chip. Victorino, a hugely valuable player in 2013, is coming off back surgery and is due $13 million.
The Red Sox could consider trading first baseman Mike Napoli and his $16 million commitment. That would leave Craig to play first, perhaps in a platoon with Daniel Nava.
Or the Red Sox simply could exceed the luxury tax threshold of $189 million in the interest of fielding a better team with higher ratings on their regional sports network, NESN. Principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) suggested last year that the financial advantages of staying under the limit were not as significant as once thought.
In Sandoval, Ramirez, and Koji Uehara, who was signed in October, the Red Sox already have committed an average annual value of $51 million to their payroll and at least $206 million over the long term.
Because Sandoval and Ramirez were extended qualifying offers, the Red Sox will lose two draft picks. Their first-round pick, No. 7, is protected.
For Sandoval, Boston will be a change after seven seasons with San Francisco. The “Kung-Fu Panda” was a favorite at AT&T Park as thousands of fans wore panda-themed hats and T-shirts to games.
Sandoval is a career .294 hitter with an .811 OPS and 106 home runs. He was even better in the postseason, hitting .344 in 39 games and driving in 20 runs.
Sandoval appeared in only one Series game in 2010 but was a significant contributor to the San Francisco championships in 2012 and ’14.
A nine-figure contract may seem high for a two-time All-Star who has yet to drive in 100 runs. But Sandoval has consistently been an above-average hitter with a knack for putting balls in play.
Sandoval also brings some much-needed lefthanded power to the Sox. The switch hitter is a career .304 hitter from the left side, .317 last season. His righthanded hitting has declined in the last few seasons but the Red Sox lineup will help mask that.
There are risks. Sandoval weighs in the vicinity of 250 pounds and the Giants were frustrated with his failed attempts to get in better shape. But Sandoval plays an adept third base and is not a detriment on the bases.
Signing Sandoval leaves two Red Sox players in an uncomfortable position.
Will Middlebrooks, the Opening Day third baseman the last two seasons, faces a return to Triple A or a trade. After a strong rookie season in 2012, he has hit .213 with a .265 on-base percentage since and had three stints on the disabled list.
At 26, Middlebrooks may need a fresh start with another team.
Garin Cecchini, 23, has some experience in the outfield but has been primarily a third baseman since he was drafted in 2010. He has ranked high on prospect lists but last season had a modest .712 OPS in 114 games for Triple A Pawtucket.
The Red Sox will have to open two spots on their 40-man roster for Ramirez and Sandoval.