Despite offseason strides, Hanley Ramirez’s presence still an issue
If last winter taught us anything, it’s that selecting which major league teams are the offseason winners or losers is a pointless exercise. The Red Sox were among the big “winners” a year ago, then finished in last place, 15 games out.
It’s hard to get much of a gauge on a team until you see the players on the field together.
Yes, Dave Dombrowski obtained ace starter David Price, hard-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel, impressive set-up man Carson Smith, and useful righthanded-hitting outfielder Chris Young. Four good moves, no doubt. But the offseason is not yet a success because Hanley Ramirez remains the first baseman.
Dombrowski has been careful to make supportive remarks about the idea of Ramirez playing first base. But the Sox also inquired about several free agent first basemen, including Mike Napoli before he signed with the Indians. Obviously the idea of moving Ramirez is percolating to some degree.
Finding an actual first baseman wouldn’t be a problem. There are assorted free agents still out there, or the Sox could give Travis Shaw a shot.
The issue remains finding a taker for Ramirez. He has at least three years and $66 million remaining on his contract and is coming off the worst season of his career as measured by adjusted OPS.
Trading Ramirez would require the Red Sox picking up perhaps half of what he is owed and/or taking a bad contract in return. The other option would be attaching Ramirez to a solid prospect to make a deal more palatable.
It’s easy to say that trading Ramirez would be impossible. But Dombrowski has to find a way. All it takes is one team desperate for righthanded power before the season starts.
For the Red Sox, it’s clear they need to find a way out. One analysis had Ramirez costing the Red Sox 19 runs with his defense in left field, and that was only over 747⅔ innings. What will happen if Ramirez plays 850+ innings at a position where he could handle the ball several times an inning?
In the age of defensive shifts, something the Red Sox embrace, playing first base is more complicated than ever.
Dombrowski has said the transition to first base should be easier than left field for Ramirez because he was a shortstop for so many years. That sounds plausible. But Ramirez cost the Dodgers nine runs as a shortstop in 2014 and the Marlins an astonishing 28 in 2007. He was not a good infielder and has never played so much as an inning at first base.
And don’t forget, the Red Sox put Ramirez in left field a year ago because they didn’t think he could play the infield.
In theory, the Red Sox could make do with Ramirez at first base for one season, then shift him to DH once David Ortiz retires. But such an idea makes sense only if you choose to ignore the team finishing in last place for three of the last four years and making the playoffs once in the last six seasons.
The Red Sox have to be in a win-now mode. Ownership brought in Dombrowski at the expense of Ben Cherington, signed Price to a record-setting contract, and approved trading for Kimbrel. Trading Ramirez finishes the job of fixing the roster.
So perhaps the Red Sox are winners this offseason. But seven weeks remain before position players report to spring training to truly get it right.
■ Eduardo Rodriguez might be the most important player on the roster. Price will improve the rotation, but that doesn’t necessarily make Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, or Rick Porcello any better. But Rodriguez, 22, was 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie and is capable of great heights. If he improves, so much changes for the Sox. He’s the best bet to make a leap forward.
■ There’s little chance agent Scott Boras will engage in contract extension talks for Xander Bogaerts because that goes against his philosophy. But the Sox should make a run at signing Mookie Betts to a deal now before he blows up next season. Betts is headed for All-Star status.
■ Did you know Fenway Sports Management represents troubled Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel? Led by Sam Kennedy, FSM signed Manziel to a deal in 2014. Manziel visited the Sox during spring training in 2014 accompanied by a large entourage.
■ Christian Vazquez has played 30 games in Puerto Rico this winter and is in the playoffs with Santurce. He has hit .302 with a .644 OPS. Vazquez has not caught in Puerto Rico and will wait for spring training to really test his surgically repaired elbow.
■ On Monday, Caguas beat Santurce, 7-4. International Man of Mystery Rusney Castillo was 1 for 4 for Caguas with a two-run triple. He joined the team just for the playoffs. Bryce Brentz (1 for 3) also played for Caguas, as did Red Sox outfield prospect Henry Ramos, who was 4 for 4 with two doubles.
The game also featured Jose De La Torre, who pitched seven games for the Sox in 2013, and former Sox outfield prospects Ryan Kalish and Rey Fuentes.
Caguas is managed by former Sox infielder Alex Cora and Santurce is led by Ramon Vazquez, another former Sox player.
■ The Hall of Fame announcement comes Wednesday at 6 p.m. Based on the public ballots collected by Ryan Thibs , Ken Griffey Jr. has a chance of breaking Tom Seaver’s record of 98.8 percent of the vote.
Of the 158 ballots so far collected by Thibs, all included Griffey. That’s roughly 35 percent of the expected 450-475 voters.
Mike Piazza is looking good for induction, and Jeff Bagwell has clearly made strides, although perhaps not enough to get the required 75 percent.
Sadly, there are always some outliers who refuse to vote for even a player like Griffey. The Hall of Fame, which controls the electorate, does not mandate that votes be made public. But the Baseball Writers’ Association of America should press the Hall on this.
Writers ask players, managers, and executives to go on the record every day. The least we can do be fully transparent in our own actions.
■ Relievers in the AL East: Dellin Betances, Brad Boxberger, Zach Britton, Brett Cecil, Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, Roberto Osuna, Koji Uehara. The Yankees look fearsome, certainly. But the other teams are pretty good, too.
■ The Red Sox have three players eligible for salary arbitration: Kelly , Junichi Tazawa, and Robbie Ross Jr. They can file for arbitration on Jan. 12, with figures exchanged three days later. It would be a surprise if a hearing were needed for any of the three.