Is Xander the new Hanley?
The Red Sox likely thought about that when they reacquired Hanley Ramirez and signed him to a four-year, $88 million deal. Ramirez had the same body type — tall, lean, 6 feet 2 inches, 200 pounds — when he was younger as Xander Bogaerts does now.
Red Sox first base/outfield coach Arnie Beyeler remembers Ramirez in the Dominican Summer League. “Hanley was wiry back then, filled out obviously, but Xander fit that description,” said Beyeler. “But that’s a good analogy.”
Ben Cherington sees it, too.
“I hope Xander becomes the hitter that Hanley has become,” said the Red Sox general manager.
Beyeler is likely to break in Ramirez as a left fielder. Cherington said Ramirez will be going to camp well ahead of pitchers and catchers, who report Feb 20, to learn his new position.
Ramirez had a nine-year major league run at shortstop, but it became obvious that he was no longer able to hold up to the rigors of the position, and thus a move to the outfield, first base, or designated hitter was his destiny. For the last two seasons, Ramirez has had to manage a back problem, which also affected his hamstrings. He’s worked with specialist Dr. Robert Watkins on strengthening his back.
After he was traded to the Marlins (along with Anibal Sanchez) in the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell deal in 2005, Ramirez won Rookie of the Year honors as a 22-year-old, hitting .292 with 17 home runs, 59 RBIs, and an .833 OPS. He also made 26 errors at shortstop that season.
Bogaerts didn’t have the same success, with a .240 average with 12 homers, 46 RBIs, and a .660 OPS as a rookie. He made 20 errors, 10 at shortstop and 10 at third base. He had big swings in his offensive and defensive performances. He hit .327 in May and .313 in September, but .135 in June and .128 in August.
The Red Sox moved Bogaerts from shortstop to third base and then back to shortstop. The organization has never really known Bogaerts’s true position, but there once was the same issue with Ramirez. Ramirez never really became a good shortstop, but his offense carried him. The Red Sox hope Bogaerts takes the same course as a hitter.
Bogaerts hit .314 as a 17-year-old rookie in the Dominican Summer League. He had an .896 OPS at age 18, and hit 16 and 20 homers the next two seasons. Bogaerts flashed more power in the minors, but Ramirez’s 162-game averages are .300/25/87/.373/.873.
“They are both fun-loving kids who love playing the game,” Beyeler said. “I didn’t see Hanley after the Dominican League, but I remember him as a kid who once he got his chance just did things better than everyone else. He ran better, threw better, hit better. It was easy to see that he was going to develop into a very good baseball player. And you see the same things with Xander.”
Cherington is taking a risk that Ramirez will be able to make the adjustment to left field. The fact that Ramirez has had back problems and needs to go to a less-strenuous position is reason enough to make it work.
“I saw him when he was 16, and not to be critical, he wasn’t a very good shortstop,” Cherington said. “But he worked and worked to become a good one. There’s no doubt, from our conversations, that he’ll work to be a good left fielder. It won’t be perfect right away, but he’s a great athlete and he’ll make it work.”
Cherington recalled, “One thing that was different about him is that everything came so much quicker to him. He was one of the few guys who performed right away. He’s just a level above talent-wise and intelligence-wise a lot of kids at that age at the time. And then he got traded. Since then it’s just been watching him from a distance. He’s been a big part of helping the Dodgers win the last three years. We’re excited to have him back.”
The Red Sox also think he can be a big help to Bogaerts, who will encounter the same situations. There will be people who will doubt his defense, with good reason until he proves he can be at least average at the position.
People thought he was equally poor, if not worse, at third base. Scouts who watched him all season say he’s still better suited for first base or the outfield as his body begins to fill out. But Bogaerts began to change some opinions with his late-season play at shortstop. If it sounds familiar, that’s what happened to Ramirez, as well.
As he fills out, the chances of Bogaerts remaining at shortstop may be slim. But if he hits like Ramirez, the Red Sox will in essence have developed the same player nine years apart.
Even with Ramirez’s average of 25 home runs, one scout who has followed Bogaerts since he was 18 said, “He’s got the swing and the tools to probably average 25-30 homers at some point. I know it was a struggle for him last year, but when this kid gets it all together, and gets that confidence that he can drive the ball out of the park, watch out. He’ll surpass Hanley Ramirez.”
Which is why the Red Sox have refused to include him in deals. Everybody wants Bogaerts, just as everybody wanted Ramirez in 2005. At that point, the Red Sox gave in to the Marlins. The Sox needed an ace pitcher and they got Beckett, with the stipulation they take Lowell and his big contract. Both players were huge in helping win the 2007 World Series for Boston.
When you win a World Series, it’s tough to look back on what you gave up. In that deal, the Red Sox also gave up Sanchez, currently with the Tigers, who has been a very good middle-of-the-rotation starter, but like Ramirez has had injury issues.
How far will teams go to sign top starters?
Maybe some are growing impatient with Jon Lester making sure what’s out there before he commits to his future.
But that’s what he’s supposed to do as a free agent.
The question is, how far will the Red Sox go with their final offer?
Is Lester worth a six-year, $150 million deal? The Red Sox seem to be stretching on this one, but the industry feeling is that anyone who lands Lester may need to be at the level of Zack Greinke’s six years at $147 million.
Are the Red Sox better off pursuing the remaining years on Cole Hamels (five years at $110 million) and using the extra money elsewhere? Lester and Hamels are both top lefthanded pitchers. The Red Sox would have to give up prospects, of which they have plenty, but Hamels at $40 million less seems like good value.
According to major league sources, the Cubs are very serious about Lester. The Giants are becoming more serious about him. An elite lefty at Yankee Stadium? The Yankees are contemplating a move but haven’t committed to one.
Then there’s Scott Boras’s breakdown of client Max Scherzer being the top pitcher out there if you buy that pitchers have only so many bullets. Boras presented a packet to all teams he felt would be in the hunt.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports obtained it, and according to Boras, Scherzer has the arm of a 25- or 26-year-old because his pitch totals are significantly lower than those of Lester and fellow free agent James Shields.
Boras indicated the 30-year-old Scherzer has thrown 20,954 pitches, to 26,321 for Lester and 29,461 for Shields.
The Red Sox have studied the health of pitchers over 30, and the conclusion has been that pitchers who are healthy in their 20s usually are healthy in their 30s. And Scherzer, Lester, and Shields were healthy in their 20s. There are exceptions — CC Sabathia for one, and Justin Verlander probably isn’t what he used to be.
Boras’s theory seems to be as sound as anyone’s — the more pitches you’ve thrown the closer you are to a breakdown.
Apropos of nothing
1. Bittersweet that the Pawtucket Red Sox are about to be sold to a few of the Red Sox limited partners. It’s been a long ride, which started in 1977 when Ben Mondor bought the team and hired some terrific people in Mike Tamburro, Lou Schwechheimer, and Bill Wanless to run it. They were the model for how to build and sustain a Triple A franchise. Nobody knows where the team goes from here. Will there be a new stadium eventually? Will McCoy be expanded or refurbished even more? Interesting times ahead.
2. Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo has spent most of the offseason interviewing for jobs and coming up short, which he did in Texas, Houston, and Minnesota. But he’s OK with it. Better than not getting any interviews. Lovullo said circumstances beyond his control intervened in every case, but he felt he had good interviews. The Twins even received permission from the Red Sox to extend their window with him, but they eventually hired Paul Molitor.
3. We’ve been remiss in not recognizing Raquel Ferreira’s promotion to Red Sox vice president of baseball administration, making her just the third woman at that level of baseball, after Major League Baseball vice president Kim Ng and Yankees senior VP Jean Afterman.
4. If the Golden Era committee is reading, cast a vote for Luis Tiant for the Hall of Fame. A deserving player who led the Red Sox of the 1970s to some big wins, pitched hurt a lot, and whose statistics are comparable to Juan Marichal, Jim Hunter, Don Drysdale, and others. It would be nice to have Tiant and Pedro Martinez go in in the same season. The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy is also a finalist for the Hall’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award.
5. Nice medical recoveries by Red Sox personnel Dick Berardino and Ken Nigro.
6. Will this be the year Wade Boggs gets his No. 26 retired by the Red Sox?
7. Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas signed with the Diamondbacks for six years at $68 million. He was originally expected to get about $100 million, but he got knocked down when most teams couldn’t project him defensively. He’s really a DH who will be playing the outfield.
8. A smile comes to Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart’s face when he recalls that he was 9-1 against Roger Clemens.
Updates on nine
1. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Red Sox — John Farrell spoke to Cespedes last week about possibly playing right or center field, and Cespedes signed off on doing what’s best for the team. Does this mean he won’t be traded? So much depends on the Sox getting Jon Lester. If they do, they can concentrate on getting a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, such as Mat Latos or Mike Leake from Cincinnati. The Reds would have a need for Cespedes’s bat, but they would also probably have a need for shortstop Deven Marrero. Johnny Cueto? It would take Cespedes and maybe two top prospects to land him. Awfully tempting.
2. Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers — The Red Sox would have more interest in Porcello than Anibal Sanchez, but a deal for Cespedes that includes these pitchers could materialize. If the Red Sox can’t sign Lester, the Tigers might be interested in moving David Price, but that would be costly. Porcello fits the age (26 on Dec. 27) the Red Sox want.
3. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Red Sox — There are teams interested, and scouts liked what they saw from Buchholz over the last few weeks of the season, with one from the National League indicating, “There’s a lot of talent there that hasn’t come out.”
4. Blake Swihart, C, Red Sox — Could he be the most untouchable Red Sox prospect? One team’s executive said he’s tried to get Swihart but to no avail. Swihart flashes unusual athleticism for a catcher. His ability to hit from both sides of the plate, with good speed and a good arm, make him a special player. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said there is no plan to introduce Swihart to a different position in spring training. It will be interesting to see how they handle the Swihart/Christian Vazquez situation in the near future. Vazquez might have an edge defensively, but Swihart may be more complete.
5. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays — The Jays continue to revamp their clubhouse chemistry, first by signing Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million deal, and then making a big trade with Oakland to obtain Donaldson. Both are obviously important players on the field, as well. Don’t be surprised if the Jays are still in on outfielder Torii Hunter, another character guy, who makes sense to a lot of teams on a one-year deal, including the Cubs, Tigers, White Sox, Mariners, and Giants.
6. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Red Sox — The Miami Herald reported last week that Craig was on the Marlins’ list of possible first base acquisitions. Craig seems the odd man out after a poor offensive season in Boston, even though the Red Sox staff believes he will turn it around. Even though Craig said he was 100 percent recovered from a Lisfranc fracture, coaches believed he was hurt and unable to execute his normal stance and followthrough on his swing. Craig was one of the more productive hitters in baseball before last season. He still owns a .349 career average with runners in scoring position (and a .970 OPS), .309 with men on base, and .301 with runners in scoring position and two outs for a .926 OPS.
7. Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Athletics — Numerous teams are trying to obtain the righthander, including the Red Sox, according to a team source. Samardzija is 29 and can become a free agent in 2016. GM Billy Beane is fielding offers as he is in a trade frenzy trying to re-create his contending team. The Red Sox have all the pieces Beane would want, including young pitching and middle infielders.
8. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals — Hard to tell whether the Nationals are serious about trading Zimmermann because 1) they have the resources to sign him and 2) he’s their best pitcher. “It doesn’t hurt to listen,” said one NL executive about GM Mike Rizzo’s strategy. “If you get overwhelmed, you do it. If you don’t, you keep him. Pretty simple, actually.” The Red Sox, Rangers, and Cubs seem to have the pieces to get a deal done.
9. David Robertson, RHP, free agent — If the Yankees are indeed going the reliever route in rebuilding their pitching staff, it’s unusual they wouldn’t have re-signed their closer by now. One theory espoused by a rival American League East GM is that perhaps the Yankees would like to change direction and go after someone like Andrew Miller, a power lefty, to go along with Dellin Betances. Plausible, for sure. According to his agent, Mark Rodgers, Miller is moving closer to a free agent decision.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Jon Lester has pitched 1,596 innings and has a career ERA of 3.58. Tim Lincecum has pitched 1,567⅓ innings and has a career ERA of 3.59.” . . . Also, “Two bullpens averaged throwing pitches over 90 miles per hour: Pittsburgh at 90.6 and Atlanta at 90.1 The slowest reliever pitches belonged to the Red Sox at 86.7, followed by the Giants at 87.0.” . . . Happy birthday, Shane Victorino (34).
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.