Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez designated for assigment

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 1, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 1, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox designated Hanley Ramirez for assignment to clear a roster spot to activate Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list.

We excepted there would be a roster move today. We didn’t expect it to be this. The Boston Red Sox announced on Friday that Hanley Ramirez has been designated for assignment.

Ramirez is still owed more than $15 million for the rest of this season. The Red Sox will be on the hook for his salary unless they can find a trade partner in the next seven days. Otherwise they will release him and swallow the money.

A scorching start to the season quickly faded into a miserable slump. Ramirez hit .163 with a .500 OPS in May. He went without a hit in his last five games and has looked lost at the plate. Every at-bat lately has seemingly ended with a strikeout or with Ramirez rolling over on a pitch that results in a ground out to an infielder.

Many were calling for Ramirez to lose playing time until he could work his way out of this funk. Or at least drop him in the order. Few expected it would end with Ramirez being cut from the team altogether.

The roster spot that Ramirez vacates will make room for the Red Sox to activate Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list. The veteran second baseman has been sidelined all season while recovering from the cartilage restoration procedure that he underwent on his left knee last October.

It was reported earlier this week that Pedroia would rejoin the team this weekend, leaving us to wonder whose spot he would take. Blake Swihart was a prime candidate to be designated for assignment. For now, his job appears to be safe.

The decision to release Ramirez shows contrasting views between the manager and the front office. While Alex Cora continued to believe in Ramirez enough to keep penciling him in near the top of the lineup, Dave Dombrowski felt he wasn’t even worth keeping on the team.

We have to assume that the Red Sox approached Ramirez about reducing his playing time. We can imagine that didn’t go over well with the veteran. If the team felt he could become a problem then that could explain the rash decision to let him go. Or Ramirez may have asked for his release rather than become a bench player.

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The Red Sox now are saved of the threat of Ramirez’ looming option. His contract includes a $22 million vesting option if he reached 497 plate appearances this season, which he was easily on pace for. Now his tenure with the team will end far short of that threshold.

With Ramirez gone, Mitch Moreland becomes the primary first baseman again. He’s been one of the team’s hottest hitters this year and bring an elite glove to the position. Swihart could see more playing time at DH when J.D. Martinez needs a breather or talks his way into playing the outfield. Those occasions where the DH spot opens up would also benefit Eduardo Nunez, who stands to lose playing time with the return of Pedroia.

Activating Pedroia created a roster crunch that put the Red Sox in a difficult position. Ramirez may have been slumping but his strong April shows the upside he still possess. With Swihart and Nunez also struggling, it’s hard to imagine giving either of them more playing time instead of Ramirez makes the team better this season.

The decision to cut ties with Hanley shows the Red Sox still see enough upside in Swihart’s long-term potential to warrant keeping him. Even if it means weakening the team in the short term. It also goes to show that they wanted no part in that vesting option.

No team is going to pick up Hanley’s full remaining salary so the Red Sox won’t save much money on his contract this year, if any. However, a contending team in need of a bat will take a low-risk, high-reward shot on Ramirez if they can get him cheap off the scrap heap.

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The Red Sox let Ramirez go because they felt it was the best decision for their team. Let’s just hope Hanley doesn’t latch on with another American League contender. A motivated Ramirez could come back to bite them.