Who doesn’t like getting unexpected gifts? The shock of being surprised is instantly evaporated by the overwhelming feelings of fulfillment at having gotten something for nothing without even having planned it. Textbook example – Travis Shaw comes up from Pawtucket for a spot start with the Boston Red Sox on August 1 against the Tampa Bay Rays and proceeds to rake with 4 hits in 4 at bats, two of them dingers. All according to plan.
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While Shaw may be the unexpected gift that would keep on giving, Hanley Ramirez would be the gift that the opponents would keep on taking. Taking routine flyballs and turning them into extra-base hits, taking helpless leaps toward the left field wall with his papier-mache shoulder, taking lunging swings at every pitch to come off the mound. Ramirez was that horrifically embarrassing and unstylish outfit, gifted with love by your grandmother, you walk around with only awaiting the opportunity to trade it back to the store.
Ramirez’s struggles in Boston are one of the most defining features of the season, a perfect example of everything that went wrong in 2015 for the Red Sox. Never having been known for defense while playing at his natural position of shortstop, his transition to left field went down like a lead balloon. His fielding hit a dire .969 and doubtlessly contributed to his unbelievable WAR of -1.8 on the year. He was, unquestionably, the worst positional player for defense in the American League. A liability waiting to drop the ball, literally and figuratively.
His bat was to be his most redeeming factor. His ability to hit consistently was shown no better than his stunning .345/.402/.638 slashline for the LA Dodgers in 2013. That’s so formidable it’s a challenge to look back and think that this is the same Ramirez. In 2015 he was swinging for a painful .249/.291/.426 and I’m told Boston Police still haven’t found his missing batting strength. He did hit 20 homers, but 10 of those came in April alone. What went wrong?
Part of this can be attributed to his lack of hustle and his notoriously injury prone frame. More so than this though, the Hanley experiment at left field was a failure by any measure and management’s decision to stubbornly stick with it was seemingly only to cover for the abject failure of thinking he could ever be even a competent outfielder. Not so with new Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski.
With Dombrowski currently down in Boca Raton, Florida for the annual offseason GM meetings, he decided to call in with Ramirez , who lives in the area, and make sure everyone is “on the same page.” And by that he means, his page. Left field is now out of the question for Ramirez, to the delight of fans and the guy who has to paint over dents in the Green Monster. He’s making yet another transition, this time to first base and that’s not all that needs to change. As reported by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Dombrowski expects an overall transformation in both Ramirez and his game:
"“He Understands we’re much more interested in him being a little more athletic,” Dombrowski said. “ The thing about him is he’s 245 pounds, approximately. He’s not an overweight 245. He’s a big and huge 245. We would rather have a more svelte, 230-type of weight – not giving him a mandatory weight by any means – but more athletic, more focused on hitting doubles, using the whole field and driving in runs than worrying about hitting the ball out of the ballpark for 40 home runs.”"
Whether it was a conscious decision by Ramirez to try to be more like his hero and Boston’s hero David Ortiz and hit more homers at the cost of more strikeouts, or just a slump year, is unknown. Certainly the end result was more of the K, less of HR. We’ve covered in the past that Dombrowski would like a more athletic approach from Ramirez, but this is a whole new want in and of itself. He wants a Hanley Ramirez who is athletic, a Kansas City Royals-esque doubles hitter, much thinner than present and a first baseman. He basically wants somebody who isn’t Ramirez.
Unfortunately for Dombrowski, Ramirez may well be the gift bought from a shop with a no refunds disclaimer. The Red Sox were bailed out by the Dodgers in 2012, who took on board many of their albatross contracts, but the same is unlikely to happen again. So what can Dombrowski do? Find some use for Ramirez in Boston or, perhaps, find some way to raise his value enough to trade him with money eaten from his contract.
You see, Ramirez’s poor fielding wouldn’t be an issue as a designated hitter, only his inability to hit. Correct the latter and find a club looking for the former and, providing there is enough taken off his contract, he could be safely offloaded with little negative impact on the Red Sox fortunes going forward. Whether Dombrowski elects to take this route is unknown, though it’s certainly rumored.
While the options exist, this much is certain for now – Dombrowski means business and Ramirez has no choice but to comply. A loss of weight may not be demanded, but it may as well be. The Red Sox received a gift for first base in Shaw, who had a fielding of .993 and hit to the tune of .274/.331/.491, and won’t hesitate to put him back there permanently if need be.
Perhaps ultimately, the question this offseason may not if Ramirez can lose 14 pounds, but if Dombrowski can lose Ramirez.