In a perfect world, Dave Dombrowski would snap his fingers, and both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez would be gone from the Red Sox. These two players are problems--giant, $20 million problems--that the Sox would gladly be rid of if someone, anyone, would take them off their hands.
Which is why it's interesting how differently they're treating the two players' situations these past two months. When it comes to Hanley Ramirez, the Red Sox can't seem to stop talking. They're meeting with him in Florida, say they're committed to him at first while denying reports of involvement on Byung-Ho Park, and talking about their conditioning plans for him headed into 2016. I can't remember the last time there was this much attention from the team paid to a player already under contract. Hanley has already probably equaled the attention paid to, say, Jon Lester between 2013 and 2014, and it's still early in November!
As for Pablo Sandoval...Nothing.
I'll grant you, there's more to talk about with Ramirez given the position change, but it's still a bit odd that we've heard next to nothing about the third baseman. Are the Red Sox being vocal about their commitment to Ramirez because they don't want to seem quite so desperate to potential trade partners? If so, why have they not done the same with Sandoval? Does their silence on Sandoval indicate they lack the commitment they have to Ramirez? Then why are actually committed to their unfortunate first baseman?
The different approaches would seem to indicate different intentions from the Red Sox, which might sound crazy when you consider how bad both contracts are. But when it comes down to it, getting rid of both Ramirez and Sandoval in one offseason is something of a pipe dream, and it's not hard to imagine that they're resigned to dealing with at least one of those two in 2016. Best guess, that one is Sandoval.
First off, it does stand to reason that the one they're paying less attention to is the one they won't be trying to deal. With Hanley, the Red Sox are selling an idea to other teams. "Hey, remember the athletic Hanley Ramirez of days past? Well, he's going to go back to that and back to the infield." After all, Ramirez' biggest issue in 2015 wasn't at the plate, but in the field, where he was historically bad in left. But if we're talking about an infielder making the move from short to first, that's not nearly so risky a move. Granted, Ramirez wasn't good at the plate last season, but he was excellent up until he hurt himself playing that unfamiliar position. A year removed from that, with his shoulder healthy, it's not too hard for a team to imagine getting the big bat of April.
With Sandoval? Close your eyes and hope, I guess. Why was he so bad last year? Because he was. Because, I don't know, he's out-of-shape and his decline has started early. There are no obvious, easily fixable explanations for Sandoval's demise. It's kind of a bleak picture, and it's going to be damn hard to find someone to buy into that situation, even if the Red Sox were to subsidize a big portion of his contract.
Of course, these are all reasons why the Red Sox would rather trade Sandoval than Ramirez, but it's worth noting that if they get rid of Sandoval, they're not exactly guaranteeing themselves anything better at the position. Hanley Ramirez is currently blocking Travis Shaw from getting a chance to repeat his surprising 2015 performance at first, and with Sam Travis currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League, it's not too hard to imagine that they'd have a good backup to Shaw if his success proves unsustainable.
At third? Well, the Sox are trying to get Shaw some experience at the hot corner, but guys who play first base throughout the minors--particularly in a system like Boston's, where the Sox are always trying to keep players at their most valuable defensive position for as long as possible--aren't usually good candidates to pick up new, harder roles. Shaw and Ramirez at the corners? Yikes.
There's always Brock Holt, but the Sox would be loathe to pull him from his super-utility role, particularly after another second-half fade. Past him, it's basically blanks until you hit the likes of Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers, who have yet to play above Low-A Greenville. That would leave the Sox looking at free agency and trades to fill the hole left by Sandoval (where, frankly, the options are few to begin with), and they need most of their resources in those departments to fix the rotation and bullpen, even if they manage to get rid of, say, 50% of Sandoval's contract.
No, while the Red Sox would love to be free of Sandoval, they also don't have an obvious answer to replace him. And no, Hanley Ramirez at third doesn't count for much the same reason Travis Shaw at third doesn't. It's entirely possible that, even if the Sox manage to get rid of Ramirez, Sandoval will be every bit the disaster that he was in 2015. And in that case, if the Red Sox are still in the race, they'll need to find an answer to that, even if it means cutting bait just a year-and-a-half into their five-year deal. They can't let themselves be dragged to the bottom handcuffed to that albatross. Yes albatrosses are birds that fly rather than sink. The metaphor doesn't really work. But let's move past that.
With Ramirez, though...well, they just might find a way out. They won't be getting their full $22 million back, but maybe they'll get a good chunk of it from a team that's willing to dream on a healthy Hanley. And, yes, maybe Ramirez bounces back and inspires thousands of "why can't we get players like that?" comments around Boston, but at least the Sox will have a little more room to work with when it comes to fixing their pitching staff, and they'll have a replacement for Ramirez whose expected value is, in all likelihood, not that far off from Hanley's over the next few years. If nothing else, it's a scenario that makes a whole lot more sense than the Red Sox actually being committed to Hanley Ramirez after what happened last year.