The Boston Red Sox knew that it was time for a change twice in the last four years. In 2012, they were dead last in the American League East, so they dumped a group of veterans onto the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2013, they won the World Series with a mix of veterans, who then made Boston look like the Island of Misfit Toys in 2014. They went into the baseball arms race during the off-season and bought a different group of veterans for many different positions. That didn’t work, either. A log-jam developed in the outfield between the older players brought in over the last couple of years and the youth movement of the future. Now, with names like Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Nava, and Allen Craig either playing on other teams or in the minors, Hanley Ramirez finds himself the only player with more than two years of experience as a starter in the outfield.
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And if the current trend continues, will Ramirez find himself in a different spot, either for the rest of this season or the next? Today’s Red Sox depth chart for the outfield is as follows:
- Rusney Castillo
- Alejandro De Aza
- Brock Holt
The most glaring detail from this list is the fact that Mookie Betts is only not on here because of his recent concussion. Betts is feeling much better and made a scheduled rehab assignment playing for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, making his comeback to Boston imminent against the Miami Marlins, today. When that happens, someone has to come out of the starting outfielder combination.
Other than left field, it seems that Ramirez is not desired in any other outfield position, for whatever reason. He’s not the speedster he once was, hence not being a consideration for center field, a position often considered the chief of the outfield. The Red Sox don’t want him falling over the short wall in Fenway Park’s right field, a la Torii Hunter during the 2013 ALCS, as Boston can’t afford Ramirez to pick up even more injuries than he already gets. After fouling a ball off of his foot recently, Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com gave an update on the latest Ramirez injury:
It’s good news that Ramirez will have his bat back in the lineup, but if it’s not as a left fielder then he won’t be in the outfield at all.
Should Ramirez be in left field in the first place? Left field is peppered by right-handed batters trying to pull the ball, much like right field. Do the Red Sox want a transitioning player being hit at on a constant basis?
Nobody is saying that he should return to playing shortstop, as Father Time and Xander Bogaerts have blocked that possibility. However, the Green Monster and other left fields in other ballparks have made Hanley look more like Manny Ramirez to Red Sox Nation. Hanley being Hanley has put him in last place for all 13 qualifying left fielders in both major leagues in terms of fielding percentage (.975) and range factor (1.39). It’s only a tad better on offence for Han-Ram, who finds himself in 10th place with a .262 batting average, 12th place for his .302 on-base percentage, and seventh place for his .446 slugging percentage. Ramirez earned much of his 53 RBIs (seventh place) by way of his 19 home runs; however, most of those long balls came early in the season, as he’s hit only four homers in the last 30 games.
The most likely pair to compete for Hanley’s job for the rest of the season are Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo, two recent prospects. Betts has been one of the leaders on the Red Sox for the majority of the season, which is saying something since this is his first full year with Boston:
"After crashing into the wall in June and taking a few days off in which he studied film and talked to a few veterans on the team about his approach, Betts saw positive results at the plate. In 25 games after returning to the lineup up to the All-Star break, he hit .364/.400/.645/1.045. He’s hoping this latest break will help in the same way. – Jen McCaffrey, MassLive.com"
Bradley has been playing center field since Betts has gone on the disabled list, having a sub-par time of it until Sunday against the Detroit Tigers. Bradley didn’t like how former Red Sox star Dennis Eckersley criticized him on NESN and answered the calling out with a big game, going 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs. Christopher Smith of MassLive.com pointed out Bradley’s tweet about the experience:
It appears that Bradley wants to throw the gauntlet down, instead of shying into the background with his already-proven defense in the outfield. He has a .981 fielding percentage this season with Boston, but his bat is still a dismal .148 in 61 at-bats.
When, not if, Betts takes his rightful place in center, Bradley would have to make way for Castillo in right field. The 28-year-old Cuban righty has hit .269 in 119 at-bats this season with the big club. That figure is mainly because of a very slow first appearance earlier in the year. In the last 15 games, however, Castillo has a slash line of .319/.360/.426 with a home run, two stolen bases, and eight RBIs. His .982 fielding percentage in right field is also hard to argue with when deciding to leave him in the lineup.
Aug 9, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Alejandro De Aza (31) and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) and right fielder Rusney Castillo (38) celebrate after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Boston won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
With the big price tag that the Red Sox paid for Castillo and Bradley’s lefty bat, their youthful potential and contractual control are highly coveted. Castillo’s recent play makes for the decision to be whether Ramirez should continue playing in left field or making a move for Bradley to play there defensively and Ramirez to play either first base or be the designated hitter. Red Sox hero David Ortiz is playing out of his mind as of late, hitting everything, so the DH spot doesn’t make much sense, at least as long as Ortiz isn’t on a day off. First base may be the better option, based on a defensive scope of the issue.
This series against the Marlins in Miami poses another issue, as the games will be played under National League rules which will force the pitcher to hit and remove the designated hitter spot in the lineup. If the Red Sox want Ortiz to bat, he’ll have to play first base, taking that option away for Ramirez as well. Likely, Ramirez will hold at left field in order for him to have his bat in the lineup, while Bradley will be a defensive option if needed.
However, if Bradley ever learns to light up his bat like he did on Sunday, the Ramirez issue will only grow.
Imagine signing for four years and $88 million and you can’t stay healthy or play well enough for some people to stop doubting that you should get playing time. That’s got to sting a little, possibly even more than a foul ball off of the foot.