Hanley Ramirez looks atrocious in left field, worse than even the most pessimistic of projections. Routine plays have been challenging for him, and it’s painful to watch a major league player have to pause and think about which base to throw to.
But don’t blame Ramirez. He would have been foolish to turn down the $88 million contract the Red Sox offered him. Blame the people who decided it was a good idea to sign him.
Much as they did with Carl Crawford, the Red Sox misjudged how well an aging player would adapt to playing left field for them. That Ramirez offered to play left field didn’t mean he could play left field. It meant he would say what he had to say to get a contract.
Ramirez has never been a particularly good fielder, posting negative UZR numbers throughout his career at shortstop. He always could outhit those numbers, and that was where his value came from. Ramirez might cost you a few runs with his glove but he provided so many more with his bat.
As a shortstop, Ramirez was an elite offensive performer. As an American League corner outfielder, not so much.
The Red Sox also misjudged Ramirez’s attitude. The Marlins were happy to trade him to the Dodgers, and the Dodgers didn’t make him an offer to return as a free agent despite a good offensive season in 2014.
Ramirez’s work ethic and commitment have long been in question. As was the case with his defense, he usually could outhit those issues. But the Dodgers, like the Marlins, had enough of his mood swings.
Ramirez made a nice display of working at left field during spring training, but that has tapered off sharply. Manager John Farrell said Thursday that Ramirez shags balls in left field during one group in batting practice, much like the other outfielders. Obviously he needs a lot more work than that.
Saying it’s a “work in progress” doesn’t mean much if there’s no work in progress.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, said this week that the Red Sox need to look at how they evaluate players, and he’s right. That the Sox originally signed Ramirez and were familiar with him appeared to trump other concerns. General manager Ben Cherington and his staff too readily bought into the prodigal son narrative. They made the same mistake with Justin Masterson.
That Jon Lester, among others, never bought into Ramirez’s act should have been telling. That the new Dodgers management — a bunch of smart guys — wasn’t interested in Ramirez at any cost also should have been a red flag.
Ramirez will eventually be a designated hitter once David Ortiz retires, and he’ll probably be a productive one. But this team needed better planning for 2015, not 2017.
A few other Red Sox thoughts:
■ Here’s the problem with wanting Farrell to get fired: Who replaces him?
Bench coach Torey Lovullo came to Boston from Toronto with Farrell and is an adherent of his philosophies. The same is true of third base coach Brian Butterfield.
The Sox do not have a minor league manager ready for the job.
The one candidate who makes sense is Jason Varitek, now a special assistant to Cherington. Varitek obviously knows the game, knows the personnel, and would command great respect in the clubhouse.
But it’s not that easy. Varitek made approximately $67 million during his career, so it’s not like he needs a job. He also lives with his wife and young daughter in Georgia, close to his three daughters from his first marriage. Being around his kids as they grow up is important to him.
Being a big-league manager means 12-hour days, constant travel, dealing with the media, and being in Boston for part of the offseason. Varitek could want the job someday when his children are older, but the time commitment now could be prohibitive.
The Red Sox do not have a roster that can win the World Series, and no manager will change that now. Better to wait out the remaining 108 games and evaluate Farrell. If a change is needed then, there will be time to conduct a proper search. Farrell should manage as if he has nothing to lose at this point. If Ramirez needs benching, bench him.
■ Pablo Sandoval has been awful. He’s not hitting, he’s playing poorly at third base, and he seems to have given up switch hitting. But signing him was the most obvious and needed move of the offseason, and nobody can pretend otherwise now.
The Sox needed to move on from Will Middlebrooks (and he from them), and Sandoval was the best third baseman on the free agent market and a productive hitter from the left side. He had just played terrifically in the postseason and clearly wanted to come to Boston.
Sandoval has a .658 OPS. He had a .703 OPS after 54 games last season and improved steadily. The Sox can only hope he’s able to repeat that.
Meanwhile, Middlebrooks has a .682 OPS along with more home runs and RBIs. His fielding has been above average, too.
■ So Rusney Castillo was good enough to get $72.5 million but isn’t good enough to hit somewhere other than ninth? Backup catcher Sandy Leon hasn’t had an extra-base hit in his last 84 major-league at-bats but has batted ahead of Castillo three times.
■ The Red Sox recalled Jackie Bradley Jr. from the minors on May 10. Farrell said his intent was to play Bradley in a platoon in right field with Shane Victorino. At the time, Farrell said Bradley had earned a chance by improving his swing and playing well in Triple A.
Bradley’s “chance” lasted 11 at-bats. He started against R.A. Dickey and was 0 for 4. He started against Sonny Gray and was 0 for 4. Then he started against Felix Hernandez and was 0 for 3. Then he was benched before being demoted on May 22.
Instead of bringing up Bradley again, the Red Sox traded for Rangers castoff Carlos Peguero and now Orioles castoff Alejandro De Aza. Meanwhile Bradley is hitting .348 with an .893 OPS at Pawtucket.
Bradley is the best defensive center fielder in baseball. He also did what the Red Sox wanted and fixed his swing. If they’ve soured on him, fine. At least trade the guy and give him a chance with a team that wants him. It’s a shame to waste that glove in Triple A.
■ Castillo, Ramirez, and Sandoval have given the Red Sox a negative 1.1 WAR, according to Fangraphs.com. Their salaries, counting signing bonuses, total $52.5 million this season.
So for a cost of $17.82 million so far, they have underperformed replacement players.
■ The Sox are 95-122 the last two seasons and 296-317 since the 2011 All-Star break. The ESPN “30 for 30” documentary on how the 2013 Red Sox were one of the great outliers of all time will be fun to watch in 10 years. The Jonny Gomes quotes alone will be great.