It seems like a perfect idea. Hanley Ramirez‘s transition to the outfield has been anything but smooth and first base, where Ramirez could maintain his muscular post-shortstop figure while returning to the infield that he called home for the first decade of his career, would be a perfect fit. Moreover, Mike Napoli, who has struggled to the tune of a .208/.309/.396 line this season, hits free agency after the season.
The Red Sox could slide Ramirez to first base, cutting ties with Napoli and his $16M contract and opening up a slot for a more competent outfielder. However, a hitch has arisen in this potential plan and it revolves around HanRam’s willingness to even move from his new home in left field.
In fact, Ramirez rejected such a move in fairly emphatic fashion. When asked by WEEI reporter Rob Bradford if he would consider returning to the infield, even to first base, Ramirez simply replied “Hell, no.”
Unfortunately, a move out of the outfield may not merely be a convenient way to secure a first baseman for the Red Sox. It might be a defensive necessity.
Ramirez has been absolutely abysmal in left field this season. He has displayed atrocious range, costing the Red Sox 9.7 runs in the field according to FanGraphs’ UZR metric, in addition to the typical mistakes that a new outfielder might make. Ramirez has actually been so bad in left field that FanGraphs credits him with -0.4 WAR despite a solid (if unspectacular) .275/.320/.488 slash line.
Perhaps Ramirez’s mindset will change and he will grow more willing to return to the infield. If he remains so steadfast of considering himself an outfielder, then the Red Sox might simply have an ultra-expensive designated hitter on their hands. After all, without marked defensive improvement over the course of the season, Ramirez is a huge liability even in a position which is rarely a home to elite defenders.
Ramirez did cite health as his primary reasoning for staying in the outfield, but it’s hard to imagine that playing first base would take years off Ramirez’s career. Perhaps Ramirez will come from nowhere to become at least a passable defensive left fielder, but if not, this first base talk will continue and this plan would be a whole lot more encouraging if Ramirez himself were on board.