Why Did The Red Sox Move On From Hanley Ramirez?

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As I was walking back to my desk at work on Friday, a notification appeared on my phone which, to say the least, I was not expecting. The Red Sox needed to make space on the 25-man roster for Dustin Pedroia, as he would be activated from the DL to make his 2018 season debut. The notification told me that the Boston Red Sox had designated Hanley Ramirez for assignment in order to clear the roster spot. 

By designating Hanley for assignment, he is cleared from the 25-man roster, and the team has 7 days to either work out a trade, or release him, thus putting a final close to his second stint in Boston, the team who he signed with as an international free agent in 2005.

The obvious answer was to trade Blake Swihart. There has been lots of talk around Swihart not having a place on this team, and it has recently surfaced that he wanted to be traded. I am almost positive that the Red Sox looked in to trading him, however, had extremely unrealistic expectations around his value. 

I never sensed, however, that this was a move that Dave Dombrowski really wanted to complete. That kind of trade would be very uncharacteristic of Dombrowski, given his history and aggressiveness around his rosters. Apparently, this was Alex Cora’s idea.

I did not see them moving on from Hanley Ramirez to clear that roster spot, despite the fact that he has been struggling mightily in the month of May, after an absolutely electric April. In April, Hanley exploded out of the Boston lineup, posting .330/.474/.874. Given that Hanley has mainly been a question mark in Boston during his second stint with the ball club, this was an extremely positive sign for this team, and Hanley himself. 

The month of May was not nearly as kind to Hanley, however. In 85 plate appearances in May, Hanley posted .163/.300/.500, which is the polar opposite of his play in the previous month. Alas, Hanley Ramirez turns in to a pumpkin, while earning the Most Streaky Player Award from this baseball beat reporter. 

A lot of people have asked me whether I agree with the team cutting someone of Hanley’s caliber during an 0-21 streak at the plate. It’s incredibly easy to think about this roster move in a vacuum but I believe that this is a move that is focused on the long term outlook of this team. This matter is multi-faceted and it is worth examining the context around why the team would make a move like this. 

First of all, Hanley’s performance since signing a multi-year deal with the Red Sox in 2015, has been extremely suspect, at best. The Red Sox signed Ramirez, a traditional short stop, after he became a free agent in the summer of 2015. Ramirez had stints with the Marlins and Dodgers, but was very excited to be coming back to his first team, the Red Sox. 

At the time of his signing, this Red Sox team was in a very different place than they find themselves in now. The team had come off an extremely disappointing 2014 campaign, finishing with a 71-91 record. There were a series of odd moves that year including low balling their home grown ace, Jon Lester, finding that Mike Napoli was nowhere near as dominant as his 2013 season and a lot of locker room unrest. 

The one position that the Red Sox did not need to address was SS, given that Xander Bogaerts was becoming an everyday player. Ben Cherington, in his wisdom, tried to convert Hanley to a left fielder, which turned in to an unmitigated disaster. They moved him to 1B, which made him more productive, defensively, but that didn’t change the fact that this team never had a logical place for Hanley from the jump. 

The original signing felt forced, and strange, given that they had so many other holes on the team at the time. For instance, in 2014, the team’s main third baseman was Will Middlebrooks, who never developed fully in to the player that they had hoped, even though he was part of the 2013 World Series team. This was a glaring hole and they chose to sign Pablo Sandoval (a signing that I was vehemently against, even though they were clearly lacking power from the hot corner), which also proved to be a disaster. 

It always felt like it was a chore to figure out where Hanley truly fit on the team, in the lineup and everywhere else. When Alex Cora took the reigns this past offseason, he committed to batting Hanley 3rd in the lineup, no matter what. I believe that Cora found that he hits best when he’s 3rd in the lineup, a place that is coveted by the offensive force that is Betts, Benintendi, Pedroia, Martinez and the like, which brings me to my first point: Hanley was pigeon holed in where he could hit in the lineup. 

While this feels like assurance that he would be in an effective place in the lineup, this is a very big detractor. Baseball teams have gravitated towards making themselves incredibly versatile and agile, and this is the antithesis of that ideology. Hanley needed to be consistent enough to be able to move around in the lineup and it became increasingly obvious that he was not adapting to this very well. 

I know what you’re thinking: The Red Sox have the most wins in baseball…. Can’t they afford to wait it out until Hanley breaks out of his slump? The answer is actually no, due to the rest of their lineup. The top half of this lineup has been overly effective, however the bottom half of the lineup has been absolute trash. If you don’t believe me, look at the stats for Jackie Bradley Jr. 

By all looks of things, this Hanley deal became an increasingly bad looking contract signed by a GM who is no longer with the organization, and now has become untradable, since his production has been awful. 

This leads me to my final point: just when you thought that this contract looks as bad as can be, it also comes with a player option for the 2018 season. Ramirez is currently slated to make $15 million in guaranteed money, but his contract has a clause that states that if he reaches 419 plate appearances, it automatically triggers an option that pays him $22 million in total. 

If you think about it from Dombrowski and the Red Sox standpoints, this move actually makes a decent amount of sense. The team does not see Hanley as an apparent piece for the future. His struggles have amounted to more than this team has the attention for, given that they are the best team in baseball, with a young core and a true chance to compete for a World Series title this year. 

If the team does not feel like Ramirez is part of their immediate future, why not go ahead and cut him? He is owed $15 million currently, but would be owed $22 million if he reaches that amount of plate appearances. This team is never afraid to pay a bad player to go away, either. 

With the rest of the lineup hitting poorly, Hanley doing the same, needing a roster spot for Pedroia and other top prospects, the Red Sox moved on from Hanley. Was this a surprise? Certainly. I did not get the feeling like the Red Sox were ready to throw in the towel on Ramirez. However, when you look at it in the context of how his career in Boston has gone up to this point, the positions they’ve been in, and what this team looks like going forward, it is not quite as shocking that they decided to cut bait and head in another direction. 

While I did not see this move coming, it does make a lot of sense for the team. And when it comes right down to it, this whole thing is a result of an ill-advised contract on a guy who has never shown consistency or the ability to truly contribute to a contending team, no matter what the circumstances. 

There was never a true reason for Hanley Ramirez to come back to Boston, other than a home town reunion. Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora drew a line in the sand stating “nothing is given to anyone on this team, no matter who you are and how much experience you bring to the table.”