It’s not what Red Sox fans want to hear. But president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday the team remains committed to the idea of Hanley Ramirez playing first base next season.
“I hope so. We’re counting on it,” Dombrowski said at Fenway Park. “We’re committed to trying, to making the effort and I believe he’s committed to making the effort.
“Will it work? Time will tell.”
Finding a way to trade Ramirez may ultimately be the best solution. That’s not something Dombrowski could go public with, but his actions have been telling.
Dombrowski was hired in mid-August and within 10 days Ramirez was taken out of the lineup with what the team said was shoulder inflammation. Four days later, the Sox said Ramirez would no longer play left field.
Four days after that, Ramirez was placed on the disabled list and remained there through the end of the season.
The Sox started working out Ramirez at first base prior to games, running him through half-speed drills. But there was seemingly little desire to see him play there.
Ramirez, who has never played first base professionally, will not go to winter ball to learn the position.
“That’s not part of the plan right now,” general manager Mike Hazen said. “It’s mostly getting in shape physically, being ready to go for the season. We’re going to have six weeks in spring training. We’re going to have plenty of time.”
Dombrowski said Ramirez has started working out with his personal trainers in Florida.
“We need to do everything we can to make that work,” Dombrowski said. “We’re committed to it. I believe he’s committed to it. His representatives are committed to making it work.”
Ramirez played only 105 games this season and hit .249 with a .717 OPS after being signed to a four-year, $88 million deal. Ramirez started 92 games in left field and by all measures was one of the worst defensive players in the game.
Ramirez came up as a shortstop and has 97 games of experience at third base. But he arrived at spring training at close to 240 pounds last season and may not have the agility to play the infield, even first base, if his play in left field was any indication. He profiles best as a designated hitter, but the Red Sox have David Ortiz signed for at least one more season.
“One thing that’s nice is we do have some protection in Travis Shaw,” Dombrowski said. “We also have a young first baseman coming in Sam Travis that’s well-regarded. There’s a little bit of depth right there, which is helpful.”
Shaw hit .274 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games. Travis, 22, was a second-round draft pick in 2014. He hit .307 with nine homers and 78 RBIs, finishing the season with Double A Portland.
Ramirez is an issue that could take months to resolve. For now, there are other priorities.
“First and foremost we talked about trying to improve our pitching staff, our starters and our bullpen. That will be our primary focus,” Dombrowski said. “What we go after, we still have to have those meetings and make those decisions. Those are areas we want to improve.
The Sox, Dombrowski said, have rotation depth with pitchers such as Wade Miley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, and Joe Kelly.
“You’re looking for that one guy that can maybe be your horse if you can get him,” he said.
The free agent class of starters is deep and includes Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, and Jordan Zimmermann.
The Red Sox had a $200 million payroll this season. Dombrowski has not received an exact figure from ownership for 2016, but believes it will be in that vicinity.
“They’re very desired to win. It’s not going backwards. But I don’t really have a specific number. But it would be safe to say it’s in the same ballpark,” he said.
Based on that figure, the Sox should have the flexibility to pursue one of the better starters.
“Can you do it? What’s the cost of making a trade? Those conversations are just starting,” Dombrowski said.
Fixing a tattered bullpen could be more difficult. Sox relievers had the third-highest earned run average (4.24) in the American League, allowed the most home runs (76), and had the second-highest WHIP (1.40).
One of the few bullpens worse was the one Dombrowski assembled as general manager of the Detroit Tigers.
Red Sox closer Koji Uehara had a strong season, but missed the final 52 games with a fractured right wrist. He turns 41 in April.
“People have told me that he could fit different roles. But you also feel comfortable that he can close games still at this point in his career,” Dombrowski said. “Right now he’s our closer. That’s the plan. Who knows what will happen?
“I’m also concerned if the same thing happens this year, where we have an injury . . . I would hope that we could find somebody else who could help in that regard.”
Dombrowski would like to get more velocity into the bullpen. He mentioned rookie righthanders Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree as possibilities.
“Ideally you want a power arm out there to get a strikeout at a key time,” he said.
In three weeks, Dombrowski will travel to Arizona to see players in the Arizona Fall League. That trip will include a meeting with the team’s professional scouts to develop a more specific offseason agenda.