Hanley Ramirez: designated hitter of the future?


Despite the fact that he has never ventured from the left side of the infield, Hanley Ramirez will play left field for the 2015 Red Sox. The Red Sox made that much clear when, just hours after inking Ramirez to a 4 year/$88M pact, they signed third baseman Pablo Sandoval to a 5 year/$95M deal. Given Ramirez’s inexperience in the outfield, though, his transition may not be entirely seamless and, while his athleticism should allow him to patrol Fenway Park’s left field with relative success, it’s worth wondering if he will eventually take on the role of the team’s designated hitter.

David Ortiz, though he remains one of the better bats in all of baseball, is getting older after all. Ortiz will be 39 years old for the 2015 season and his 2014 campaign was a step down from his elite seasons from 2011-2013, though he still slashed a very impressive .263/.355/.517 line. There will come a time, likely sooner rather than later, when Ortiz will either retire or fall off the map, ending his tenure as Boston’s longtime designated hitter and leaving a blank space at DH for the first time in more than a decade.

Ramirez, who has a career .300/.373/.500 slash line despite playing the majority of his career in pitchers’ parks, could fill Ortiz’s sizable shoes. Though he was limited to just 128 games last season, his offensive prowess shone through as he hit .283/.369/.448 for the Dodgers. Considering his elite contact rate and excellent right-handed power, Ramirez is an ideal candidate for the middle of the Red Sox lineup and could be a great successor to the Ortiz era.

Plus, even without Yoenis Cespedes, the Red Sox have a surplus of outfield depth. Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo should both be legitimate MLB starters next season and there are plenty of other pieces of Boston’s future, including Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Craig, and potentially Garin Cecchini who belong in the outfield. Moving Ramirez to designated hitter would allow those players a more defined role in the Red Sox outfield, while also filling the hole at DH.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s the health factor for Ramirez. Ramirez has been hit hard by injuries in the past two seasons and, though it has not affected his performance at the plate, he’ll simply need to play more to live up to his contract. However, there’s a possibility that some of Ramirez’s injuries have stemmed from playing shortstop, a notoriously strenuous position which has shortened the careers of many. Moving to left field will be significantly less conducive to injuries, but there’s still a far greater risk in left field than there is as a designated hitter.

Of course, it’s tough to predict Boston’s plans for Ramirez’s future. Perhaps they view him as a left fielder for all four years of his contract, but with their organizational depth in the outfield, Ortiz likely to step down soon, and Ramirez’s injury history, sliding him to DH seems like a great fit for both parties. However, if he can at the rate he is capable of while staying healthy, he shouldn’t have a problem living up to his contract no matter where he plays.