Boston Red Sox incumbent designated hitter Hanley Ramirez seems excited about adding J.D. Martinez despite what it may mean for his own playing time.
Ramirez said all the right things regarding the Martinez signing when he met with reporters at Jet Blue Park on Tuesday. He seemed genuinely excited the Red Sox added a bat that delivered 45 home runs and led the majors in slugging last year.
The enthusiasm is noteworthy since Ramirez stands to be affected most by the new free agent acquisition. The defensively challenged Martinez isn’t going to supplant any member of the Red Sox outfield trio on a regular basis. This means most of his playing time will be as the designated hitter, a role Ramirez had been penciled in for.
A lack of playing time would have substantial consequences for Ramirez. He needs 497 plate appearances this season in order for his $22 million option in 2019 to vest. He’s unlikely to make that type of money if he hits free agency at age 35, so Ramirez’ wallet stands to get a bit lighter in the long run.
So why does Hanley seem happy to have Martinez on board? Perhaps because he’s learned it’s not all about the money.
"“At-bats are not on my mind,” Ramirez told reporters, per ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “You know what is on my mind? Winning. That’s it.”"
No matter how much money you make, you can’t buy a World Series ring. Ramirez is wise enough to know that Martinez can get him one step closer to that goal. He’s familiar with Martinez, having worked out with him the last four years, and believes he’s capable of blasting 55-60 home runs in Boston.
That estimate is a bit ambitious but the point is that Martinez adds a power threat this team desperately needed. Boston finished last in the AL in home runs and 14th in slugging last season. The power outage was blamed as a primary factor in the Red Sox meeting an early postseason exit. In order for this team to become a legitimate title contender, they needed to add a middle-of-the-order bat.
While Ramirez stands to lose playing time, the addition of Martinez doesn’t necessarily make him a bench ornament. He’s still going to play. Ramirez will presumably form a platoon at first base with Mitch Moreland, who has historically been less effective against left-handed pitching. Ramirez is coming off a disappointing season derailed by a sore shoulder but his history shows he rakes against southpaws.
Moreland Career vs RHP: .256/.322/.457/.779
Moreland Career vs LHP: .241/.300/.374/.675
Ramirez Career vs RHP: .289/.358/.480/.838
Ramirez Career vs LHP: .295/.376/.521/.897
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A left-right platoon could bring out the best in Ramirez and Moreland. Ramirez could steal some additional playing time from Moreland if he returns to his 2016 form when he blasted 30 homers and drove in 111 RBI. However, Moreland’s vastly superior defensive value will earn him his fair share of time at first base.
That leaves Ramirez seeing, at best, about an even split at first base. He’ll still see some time at DH if Martinez needs a day off or convinces Alex Cora to let him play the field when one of the outfielders need a breather. Ramirez will also be the top bat off the bench if the team needs a pinch-hitter in any game he doesn’t start.
It shouldn’t be too hard to find 350-400 plate appearances for Ramirez. Enough for him to make a difference for this team while keeping him short of the required total for his option to vest.
This isn’t the ideal situation for Ramirez but he’s taking it in stride. Signing a high-profile free agent who endangers his playing time had the potential to backfire if it soured Ramirez’ attitude. A clubhouse that dealt with its fair share of turmoil last year can’t afford to be disrupted by a malcontent. Ramirez’ positive attitude is a welcome sign that puts those concerns to rest, at least for now.