There are a lot of problems that have contributed to a disappointing 2015 season for the Boston Red Sox. Their rookies took a while to settle in, their pitching staff hasn't come together the way the front office certainly hoped, the veterans of the 2013 team have largely fallen off the map, and Pablo Sandoval has been an uncharacteristic mess at third base even as his bat has found its way back into acceptable territory.
A lot of these problems solve themselves, or have already been solved to some extent. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are the best thing about this team over the past month (and Blake Swihart has been pushing to join their ranks these past couple weeks). If Pablo Sandoval looks like a little leaguer in the field, there's nothing in his history to suggest that will continue. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino's contracts end at the end of the season, and while nobody wants to talk about the possibility that it might be time not to pick him back up, David Ortiz' can be too if he doesn't improve. Eduardo Rodriguez has brought new life to a rotation which now features competent members in himself, Clay Buchholz, and Wade Miley. If there's still a couple gaping holes here and there, it's nothing that an offseason can't fix.
But there's one problem the Red Sox need to find a solution to, and that's Hanley Ramirez. This isn't about any attitude problems that some members of the media seem desperate to turn into a thing (even if there are those in the clubhouse unhappy, it really does all come down to winning). This isn't about his bat, either. If we might have hoped for more from him, his season took a clear hit when he ran into the wall in Fenway Park back in May. The further removed he is from that, the better he's hit. He's still one very dangerous man at the plate.
No, this is about Hanley Ramirez in left field. Typically the safe place to stick even the most incapable of defenders, left has proven such a challenge for Hanley as to make Manny Ramirez look like a defensive genius. By the estimation of the Defensive Runs Saved metric, he has cost the Red Sox some 14 runs, with UZR coming in with an only slightly more generous minus 11. To put that in context, no other player so much as reaches double digits in negative UZR, and his closest competition in DRS is Denard Span and, well, Pablo Sandoval at -11.
Long story short: Hanley Ramirez is the worst fielder in Major League Baseball today, and it's not particularly close. There are those who would note his improvement in recent weeks, and it might be there. By the eye test, he doesn't make as many completely galling errors. But even if we were to accept that he has improved, he's nowhere close to average, and it's entirely possible that what appears to be improvement is more a matter of his past failures leaving him timid out there than anything else. That might actually leave him a better fielder simply by erasing some of his worst gaffes, but it also isn't really a sign that he's headed towards respectability anytime soon.
Sox front office is not to blame for poor catching
There are plenty of things you can blame on the front office, but the poor play behind the plate isn't one of them
Simply put, the Red Sox can't live with this as the status quo in 2016. This isn't one of those defensive problems that can just be ignored. Ramirez is an unqualified disaster in left field, and something needs to be done about this. The front office can quietly hope that he improves dramatically over the offseason, but that borders on the negligent. Really, they've only got two decent options: first base, and designated hitter.
There's good reason to think Hanley Ramirez could play a decent first base. His experience is on the infield, where handling throws and ground balls from slightly different angles is not nearly so different a skillset as reading fly balls and playing in the vast open space that is the outfield.
Still, it's not the sort of thing to take on good faith. Assuming that Hanley Ramirez is acceptable defensively somewhere he's never played before is how you end up with Hanley Ramirez, left fielder. The Red Sox need hard evidence. The good news is they've got some 90 games to get that.
At the moment, first base is occupied. But it's occupied by Mike Napoli, whose brief May renaissance terminated in a June that's seen him hit .190/.235/.283. Even if you're one of those exceptionally optimistic few who still has hopes for the 2015 Red Sox, there's no reason to think Napoli is part of that puzzle. We'll always have 2013, but for all the world, Napoli simply looks done.
So the Red Sox could use the rest of their season to see Mike Napoli off in as amicable a fashion as possible, or they could part ways with the first baseman now and better set themselves up for the future. By getting Hanley half a season at first, they'll not only give him a better chance to be serviceable there in 2016, but they'll have an opportunity to figure out whether that's at all likely, or if they need to start thinking of yet another solution to the problem. Better to find out now than in March of 2016.