The Red Sox have been active early in the offseason, but they haven't made one move that many observers expected them to just yet. After a disastrous first season in his return to the organization, Hanley Ramirez is still on the roster despite speculation the team would look to trade him.
On one hand, the motivation and logic behind dealing Ramirez is obvious. He's a player over the age of 30 who lacks a position in the field and brings little value to a club beyond his bat. Ramirez also has a long-held reputation for being a clubhouse cancer, and his career is littered with injuries that have perennially kept him from playing a full campaign.
Blaming Boston's last-place finish in 2015 solely on Ramirez would be unfair, but his struggles -- both in left field and at the plate -- sure handicapped a Red Sox team that was relying on a strong performance from the veteran slugger. Given that Ben Cherington, the man who signed Ramirez last offseason, has since been replaced, the tea leaves seem to indicate that Hanley's days in Boston are numbered, even if Dave Dombrowski has stated the team is largely done making moves.
Nevertheless, despite all the difficulties Ramirez presents, the Red Sox should seek to hold onto him for the time being. What needs to be remembered about Hanley, and what drew Cherington and the Red Sox to him last offseason, is how much of an impact he can make on offense. His performance last April, when Ramirez batted .293/.341/.659 with 10 home runs, feels like a mirage when viewed through the lens of his full-season production.
Yet that type of output is far more in line with how Ramirez has hit throughout his career than his otherwise disappointing numbers in 2015. The shoulder injury he suffered in late April clearly impacted his performance. Consider also that his BABIP sat 70 percentage points below his career norm despite an average batted-ball velocity that ranked among the better hitters in the game. There is good reason to think Hanley's production will improve considerably next season.
After all, this is a hitter who averaged a 125 OPS+ from 2011 to 2014 and earned deserved NL MVP votes back in 2013 with the Dodgers. Sure, he'll be 32 on Opening Day this spring, but in all likelihood, Ramirez has a better chance of duplicating his stellar career output to date than scuffling so mightily once again.
The Red Sox, moreover, aren't in any position to receive equal value in return for Ramirez's talent. Every executive in baseball knows Boston would love to be rid of Hanley's contract, which gives the organization little leverage in any negotiations. The club will be on the hook for a large portion of the $66 million remaining on Ramirez's deal if it hopes to get anything of note in return.
One can easily imagine a scenario where Boston is paying for Ramirez to play on another team in 2016 while he enjoys a bounce-back season. Such a result isn't exactly in the club's best interests either, especially if they're basically giving him away via trade.
In addition, David Ortiz's decision to retire after next year eases some of the pressure off the biggest dilemma surrounding Hanley: his position in the field. There are certainly reasons to worry about Ramirez's transition to first base. Anyone who watched the Red Sox last season is well aware this latest position switch has the potential to be ugly.
Price brings more than talent to the table
David Price is one of the elite pitchers in the game, but his leadership ability gives him even more value on the Red Sox.
But with the DH spot opening up in 2017, the Red Sox at least have a place to put Hanley if they can coax him through this coming campaign at first base. If Ramirez's offensive performance returns, they'll be a better team for it.
Most importantly, the Red Sox are no longer in a position where Ramirez's potential downside will torpedo their chances of contention. Travis Shaw looks the part of a capable platoon partner. And the development of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts lifts some of the burden off Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to carry the offense.
With the addition of David Price and improvements in the bullpen, too, Boston has a far more balanced roster that isn't dependent on Hanley to shine.
The potential upside of Ramirez's bat ultimately makes him more valuable to a Red Sox roster that's built to win now. There is no denying the headaches that Ramirez can cause, and the predicament he puts Boston in defensively. However, Dombrowski will be better served allowing Hanley to rebuild some of his value in the year ahead, and trading him when the team is less handcuffed by his contract and poor play.
The thought of another season watching Hanley learn a new position is probably nauseating to some Red Sox fans. Still, the potential in his bat could make Boston's improved squad a formidable contender in the AL. The Red Sox should wait to see if the reason they signed him in the first place—his elite offensive skills—can help carry them back into the postseason in 2016.