I miss Hanley Ramirez
On May 25th, the Sox DFA’d Ramirez. I understand why they did it, because I understand the value of $22 million. That’s what Hanley was due to get paid by the Red Sox in 2019 if he managed 497 plate appearances. The numbers say Ramirez isn’t worth that, or even close to it, so when the team had a roster crunch two weeks ago with the (temporary) return of Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list, Hanley was cut loose.
I am… unhappy.
It has nothing to do with Pedroia’s injury or Mookie Betts’s injury, which have left the Sox needing warm bodies, because I still understand the move from a roster construction perspective. Whatever you think of Blake Swihart, he’s more flexible than Hanley, as are Brock Holt and Eduardo Núñez, and rotating those three guys (plus Sam Travis) allows the team to do more with less than they could do with Hanley, or at least a similar amount with less -- all without a $22 million poison pill thrown in. While I was as surprised as anyone at the Hanley news when it started to leak, the logical side of me quickly understood it.
To that end, it’s not like the outrageously successful quartet of local teams has suffered by showing big-name players the door. The Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas less than a year ago, and the Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, both of whom should be hands-down team Hall of Famers, when they still had good baseball left in them. These cases are different, though, because the Celtics got a better player back in their deal and the Sox were dealing with stars-turned-malcontents, which happens.
No, in our hyperlocal world, the move mostly reminded me of when the Patriots cut Lawyer Milloy before week one of the 2003 regular season, because it was less about getting something back than it was about addition by subtraction. The difference in the situations, as I reckon, is that while Milloy was a tremendous player for the Patriots, he was still one of the 52 of them that weren’t Tom Brady, which ultimately made him easier to replace. Hanley is a bigger or equally sized fish in a smaller pond, which makes it even tougher to stomach.
In fairness, though, he wasn’t that big of a fish any more. Ramirez was wonderful in April and awful in May, but that hardly makes him unique. What makes him special is that he was the spiritual leader of the team and maybe its most likeable player, neither of which means much from a metrics perspective, but certainly makes him stand out among the other players Boston teams have jettisoned in the name of title glory. If anything, his welcome was understayed -- he only became the team’s mascot this season, as exemplified by this video before his final road trip as a Sox player, and which is traumatic in retrospect:
The fact that this is the last time Hanley Ramirez left Fenway Park is quite possibly the saddest thing ever pic.twitter.com/bbPQVYH6E3— Steve Perrault (@Steve_Perrault) May 25, 2018
You know what strikes me about this? It’s fun. He’s having fun. They’re having fun. Everyone is having fun.
We say baseball players get paid a ton of money and should just be happy to play the game they love for a hefty sum, and it’s partially true, but mostly just reductive. It’s less reductive in the case of Hanley, who signed a monster contract with the Red Sox before 2015 and pseudo-mope through the first few years of it. It was only this year that the investment seemed to pay off, as Ramirez came to life in Boston’s blistering April and embraced the role of team clown. If it couldn’t cover up his .254/.313/.395 batting line by the end of things, so be it, but it’s clear the Sox cut Hanley at his lowest moment as a professional but highest moment as a teammate.
Still, I see him hitting 400-foot homers and walkoff singles and playing around in gifs and I wonder if the team is *really* all that much better off without him this year. He’s no longer a great every day hitter, but he’s still probably better than his slash line and a ferocious presence at the plate. Pitchers might have him figured out, but it’s still Hanley Ramirez they’re trying to fool. Unlike Swihart -- whose career line is .256/.318/.357 -- if they make a mistake, it’s going to go a long way, and they know it.
There is also an argument, of course, that Hanley brought this upon himself not merely by flailing away in May but by rejecting a reduced role, either in the offseason or directly before the trade. Reading the transcript of Alex Cora’s remarks following the deal, that doesn’t seem to have been a motivating issue: “That’s really one of the hundred recommendations,” he told WEEI. “Tucked into gave but we felt that. It where we roster wise we are a lot more flexible. We’ve the guys that we have right now on the roster obviously the role of Mitch was gonna grow.” The translation is simple: addition by subtraction.
Moreland has more than held up his end of the bargain, and the Sox are in first place with the most wins in baseball, so, if you believe in the value of a flexible roster, there’s no real baseball reason to still be upset about it. Usually that’s good enough for me. In this case, I’m not so sure. I think there’s a time where Cora’s going to miss Hanley’s bat, if not his personality. I think there’s a time he’s going to want the brawny slugger staring back at a hapless reliever instead of Holt, Sandy León, or whoever. It might not be today, and it might not be tomorrow, but when it happens, I’ll probably say aloud to the television: Buddy, I know the feeling. Because I’m feeling it right now.