Boston Red Sox take a risk in shutting down Hanley Ramirez


Hanley Ramirez is done for the season. We learned prior to Thursday night’s game that the Boston Red Sox were shutting down their beleaguered former left field due to concerns over the injured right shoulder that has kept him out of the lineup for nearly a month.

While it may be wise not to risk Ramirez’s health if there is any uncertainty regarding the strength of his ailing shoulder, the Red Sox may be taking a bigger risk in passing on the chance to get a look at him at first base. While the experiment of transitioning Ramirez to another new position has hit a setback, the organization remains committed to the change.

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President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski believes Ramirez can play first base. The shoulder injury has prevented Ramirez from making the necessary throws at the position, but he has been practicing his footwork around the bag and making progress. Ramirez has spent the majority of his career as an infielder, so the team believes moving across the diamond to first base will come more naturally to him than shifting to the outfield did.

Let’s hope so, considering the transition to the outfield couldn’t have gone any worse. Ramirez has been the worst defensive player in the league at any position by almost any metric. If the season ends with anyone else costing their team more runs than Ramirez cost the Red Sox this year it will only because of all the games he has missed.

It’s hard to imagine Ramirez being worse at first base than he was in left field, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be a liability. The Red Sox are risking making the same mistake they did to start this season by assuming he can handle the transition. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. If this decision blows up in their faces again, the Red Sox will have no one to blame but themselves.

If Ramirez doesn’t work out at first base, what’s Plan B? There aren’t any other spots they could reasonably try him at, unless they want to move him back to third base. He at least has experience at the hot corner, even if he was never particularly good at it. That would require moving Pablo Sandoval, which isn’t exactly ideal either. While the Panda may be more capable of making the switch across the infield, swapping him with Ramirez on the diamond still weakens their infield defense. If it came to that, it’s more likely the Red Sox would try to trade one of them. Good luck with that.

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By entering 2016 intent on using Ramirez at first base it puts the Red Sox in a position where they may not have a solid backup plan. If the plan fails it will be too late to find a replacement on the free agent market. Who knows what the trade market for a first baseman will look like in the spring, so we can’t count on one even taking shape until near the trade deadline.

The Red Sox are currently using Travis Shaw at first base. While the rookie has been impressive so far, we have to be cautious with our expectations moving forward. Catching fire at the plate over the last two months of a lost season is one thing, but being counted on at a position that typically brings a big bat for a team hoping to contend next year is a completely different animal. It’d be great if Shaw’s unexpected breakout proved to be the real deal, but haven’t we seen this story before?

Will Middlebrooks made a great first impression, but failed to live up to his own hype after that. His production to wrap up the 2012 season earned him the starting third base job to begin the following year, but injuries and ineffectiveness led to him falling out of favor. When his power evaporated last year it spelled the end of his tenure with the Red Sox. He was shipped to San Diego last winter for Ryan Hanigan, only for the Padres to demote him to the minors after a half-season of disappointment.

Is Shaw the next Middlebrooks? That’s a worst case scenario, but given that his production came out of nowhere this year, the Red Sox can’t bank on him continuing at this level next season. He’s a useful bat to bring off the bench who can be used as a backup at either corner infield spot. If the Red Sox get more than that out of him it will be a pleasant surprise, but they can’t expect it.

Just as they shouldn’t expect Ramirez to seamlessly transition to first base without seeing him in game action at the position. Ramirez’s health has put the team in a tight spot with few alternatives, but following through with this plan risks having history repeat itself.