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Nick Cafardo | On Baseball

Red Sox’ big-money players have to earn keep in 2016

A rare sight in 2015: Hanley Ramirez (center) celebrating with Pablo Sandoval (48) and David Ortiz.Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

CLEVELAND — Unless things fall into place and the Red Sox can move underperforming, overpriced players, they will be dealing with the same unhealthy situation in 2016 that they dealt with this season.

We’re obviously talking about Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, and to a lesser degree Allen Craig. These players are not cost effective. At some point they may perform to their contracts. If you had to bet on one of them, you’d think Porcello, whose $20 million a year deal kicks in next season.

If he can become a second or third starter he’d come close to matching his salary. Don’t forget, then-Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski wasn’t going to sign Porcello to the type of contract that Red Sox ownership signed off on when he traded him to the Red Sox last offseason.


But Ramirez and Sandoval will pose the same old problems.

One Red Sox official indicated the new front office will hold their feet to the fire. They both will be asked to get into top condition this offseason.

It’ll be no more, “Oh, that’s just the way Pablo is.” The Red Sox will want to see an offseason conditioning program that has Sandoval reaching an appropriate weight for his body and position. Ramirez is so bulked up he looks much different than during the years he played shortstop.

If Ramirez and Sandoval don’t get into shape, they’ll keep getting hurt as they did this season.

For the money they’ll be making — they will be paid a combined $39 million in 2016 — they need to have the pride to at least provide a baseline of conditioning that they can work off. Is this not the most basic of things a professional athlete can do?

The two highest-paid players on the team dealt with injuries all season. Were they all weight- or condition-related? Hard to say, but probably a good bet.


Ramirez thought he should bulk up because he was moving to left field and wanted to hit for power. But he lost his athleticism, one of his stronger attributes, in the process.

Porcello (9-14, 5.02 ERA) pitched better in the second half. It looks as if he solved whatever plagued him early this season — whether it was big-contract jitters or suddenly being noticed as the top guy after following superstars such as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in Detroit.

But Porcello hasn’t pitched like a No. 1. You can’t look at him going forward and expect that he’s the guy you’d give the ball to in the most important game of the year. Twenty million dollars usually buys you that guy.

Craig, who spent most of the season at Triple A Pawtucket, isn’t in the salary league of the aforementioned players. But he has a guaranteed contract, paying him $9 million next season and $11 million in 2017. What do the Red Sox do with him?

You can also throw in Rusney Castillo’s $10.5 million for a player who is still trying to carve out an identity at age 28. We all look at him as a starting corner outfielder, but are the Red Sox completely sold on him?

The overpaid, underperforming players are a scourge on the team. For as much as the Sox want to emphasize the younger players who are performing their best, veterans such as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and a young veteran such as Brock Holt, who plays at a high level, there are a few elephants in the room.


Torey Lovullo, who may or may not be the manager, or even a part of the Red Sox next year, says he never sees dollar signs when dealing with an underachieving player, but he admits as a manager you have to give those players every opportunity to live up to their contracts.

“I see them for who they are, what they are, and how they fit into the team,” Lovullo said. “Sometimes you have to look at it a little differently depending on who they are and what’s going on with them. The players who are making the most usually have earned that and they deserve chances to perform and function. Sometimes it’s ticklish and that’s been our situation.

“You can’t discard somebody who’s making a guaranteed contact that’s worth a lot of money, so you have to be more patient and let them play.”

Lovullo thinks that “everybody that signs a long-term contract, it takes them a while to get used to it. Boston is a tough town. Boston fans are very demanding of excellent play. There are a lot of different ingredients involved with it. Once you sign that deal, you have to embrace it, understand that there’s a responsibility of consistent play that goes along with it. That there’s a certain degree of toughness you have to show every day and that takes some time to get used to.”


Dombrowski and senior vice president of baseball operations Frank Wren have dealt with moving albatross contracts. Dombrowski did it in Detroit with Prince Fielder, who was still a productive player when he was able to deal him to Texas for Ian Kinsler.

As Braves GM, Wren signed B.J. (now Melvin) Upton to a five-year, $75 million deal that never panned out. Wren’s successor, John Hart, was able to peddle him to San Diego while taking on a lot of the money. Wren also had to eat about $18 million of Dan Uggla’s deal before moving him.

If we could read Dombrowski’s mind, his preference would be to move Ramirez and Sandoval so the team can flourish without the cloud these guys have hanging over them.

But if he can’t, he’s going to have to make sure that Ramirez will work at being a first baseman and that Sandoval will work at keeping his weight down so he can be a more productive player.

If none of the above occurs, 2016 won’t be any different than 2015.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.