Red Sox need to limit playing time for Hanley Ramirez

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 16: Hanley Ramirez
FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 16: Hanley Ramirez /

The Boston Red Sox need scale back on the amount of playing time given to Hanley Ramirez while he’s struggling at the plate.

The Boston Red Sox couldn’t take Hanley Ramirez out of the lineup when he was tearing it up in April. It’s time to reevaluate his playing time now that he’s been struggling the last few weeks.

Ramirez is hitting a pitiful .188 with a .567 OPS in May. He’s 4-of-22 over the last seven days without an extra-base hit and only one RBI. His OPS ranks in the bottom 10 among American League hitters with 50+ at-bats this month.

His season-long numbers (.271/.328/.422) remain respectable thanks to his fast start to the season but Ramirez’ slash line continues to plummet the longer he’s mired in this extended slump.

There has been plenty of talk about the struggles of Jackie Bradley, with some going as far as to suggest a demotion to Triple-A. At least JBJ provides value with his glove at a premium position. Ramirez is an average first baseman at best and a clear downgrade from former Gold Glove winner Mitch Moreland.

Ramirez needs to hit in order to warrant a spot in the lineup. He hasn’t been doing that for the last few weeks. When Hanley is slumping, the Red Sox are better served with the defensive upgrades of Moreland at first and Bradley in center field.

This isn’t to suggest a permanent benching for the veteran. His scorching April shows the upside Ramirez still has. He may simply need a break to clear his head and evaluate any mechanical flaws in his swing.

The Red Sox can still find time for Ramirez in the lineup against left-handed pitchers. He’s hitting .359 against southpaws this season. While that average has dipped during this slump, he has still been better when a lefty is on the mound. His track record also suggests he’s better than Moreland, who is hitting .273 against lefties this year. Bradley has hit a horrific .086 against lefties this year. It’s hard to make a case for him being in the lineup against a lefty no matter how great he is on the defensive side.

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We’re all aware that Ramirez’ contract has a vesting option for 2019 that triggers if he hits 497 plate appearances. He’s currently at 183 plate appearances, more than a third of the way to that goal, and we’re only 47 games into the season. Ramirez has played in 41 of those games. That puts him on pace for over 600 plate appearances if he were to appear in each of the remaining 115 games. The Red Sox will need to curtail his playing time significantly more than they have been thus far in order to dip under the pace it would take to avoid that vesting option.

Boston may want to keep Ramirez around beyond this season, particularly if he has a strong year. However, it’s in their best interest if they can bring him back for less than the $22 million he’s owed if that option vests. There’s no chance he gets more than that on the open market. Bringing him back at a discount frees up space in the payroll budget for other impending free agents. Or they could allocate some of those savings toward expected arbitration raises for their young core.

Ramirez is still capable of helping this team. He’ll find his way out of this slump eventually. We also can’t count on Moreland to keep raking at this level all year. There will be playing time available for Hanley. It just doesn’t have to come on a regular basis while he’s in a funk.

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Give him a few days off to clear his head. Then put him in a routine of playing a few days per week instead of every day. This will help keep the 34-year old fresh for the stretch run while keeping his plate appearances under the threshold for his vesting option. The Red Sox will be better served for it in the short and long-term.