Boston Red Sox will move Hanley Ramirez to first base in 2016


The Boston Red Sox are finally admitting what we all figured out months ago — shifting Hanley Ramirez to left field was a mistake.

Ramirez has been the worst defensive player in the majors at any position this year with -19 defensive runs saved, but the Red Sox are hoping a move back to the infield will help mitigate his shortcomings in the field.

Prior to Tuesday night’s game in Chicago, Ramirez went through a brief lesson on playing first base with Brian Butterfield, which the infield coach referred to as “chalk talk.” From the looks of it, Butterfield seemed to be talking to Ramirez about footwork around the bag. He hasn’t gotten to the point of taking ground balls at first yet, but these lessons are expected to continue as the team begins the transition.

As recently as last week, Dave Dombrowski had said that it was unfair to ask a player to adjust to a new position this late in the season, but it didn’t take long for an up-close look at Ramirez’s play in left field to convince the new president of baseball operations that a change was needed. While it’s clear that the left field experiment has failed, the Red Sox still won’t rush Ramirez into the new position.

"“Nothing is imminent,” said interim manager Torey Lovullo, according to the Boston Herald.  “We just wanted to see how it looked. We sat down with Hanley and he bought in. We’re not going to rush this. He’s going to continue to play left field for us. If something changes and we feel comfortable as a group, then we’ll see what it looks like over there.”"

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While Lovullo seems to be tempering expectations, the transition is coming eventually. He’ll need a full spring training to work his way into a full-time first baseman, but Lovullo indicated that we may see Ramirez at first base sometime before the end of this season.

The Red Sox knew when they signed Ramirez to a 4-year, $88 million deal last winter that it would mean asking him to try a new position, with Xander Bogaerts locked in at shortstop and third baseman Pablo Sandoval signing with the team on the same day. They just picked the wrong position to move him to.

To his credit, Ramirez seems open to the idea of changing positions again and appears to be on board with the decision. He’s saying the right things, for now anyway, and isn’t lacking in confidence. He even had a sense of humor about it, entering the clubhouse following his lesson at first, only to emerge decked out in full catcher’s gear. Luckily he was just joking. We think.

"“I’m blessed. I can play anywhere,” said Ramirez. “I can hit anywhere. I’m really happy that I can do that for a team. I can play first, second, third, short, left, center, right field, I can catch.”"

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Hey, that’s great that Ramirez is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team, but let’s not test his theory by trying to turn him into the next Brock Holt. We know that Ramirez’s versatility is limited, so while he might be willing to play anywhere, it doesn’t mean he’s actually capable of playing all of those positions. At least not well. The Red Sox will settle for finding one position that he can field adequately enough that he won’t be a liability.

Moving Ramirez out of left field will allow the Red Sox to deploy an outfield of Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. That’s essentially like having a trio of center fielders patrolling the outfield, which will do wonders to make an underwhelming pitching staff look much improved. Ramirez recognizes what those three can do on the field, which was one reason he cited for why he’s willing to make this change.

"“We’ve got some young blood out there, man, hustling, diving all over the place,” said Ramirez. “I can’t do that. I’ve got two surgeries on my shoulder. I can’t be flying all over the place. It’s really impressive when you’ve got all those three guys out there. I’m really happy to move to see that.”"

Will Ramirez be any good at first base? That remains to be seen, but he really can’t be any worse than he has been in left field. First base isn’t quite as easy as many people assume, but he’ll have Butterfield helping him. He’s well regarded for his work with infielders and it was only a couple years ago that he helped Mike Napoli transition from catcher into an elite defender at first. Ramirez won’t likely have any Gold Gloves in his future, but the hope is that his background as an infielder will help make the transition smoother than the one to the outfield was.

Putting Ramirez at first base comes with some risk, but it’s far less risky than attempting to make it through another season with Ramirez’s adventures in the outfield. If he can make a successful transition then it will drastically improve Boston’s overall defense and perhaps salvage the regrettable contract they signed him to.

If it doesn’t work out? Well, might as well see if he can pitch. The Red Sox need some help there too.