Boston Red Sox: Looking back at the Hanley Ramirez signing

BOSTON, MA - MAY 17: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox bats during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on May 17, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 17: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox bats during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on May 17, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

His time in Boston had its fair share of ups and downs. After spending $88 million on Hanley Ramirez, how big of a mistake did the Red Sox make?

The Hanley Ramirez deal seemed perfect. He was a household name, having won two Silver Sluggers and getting MVP votes in four seasons. Furthermore, he was initially signed by the Boston Red Sox when he was 18, rose through their farm system, and even made his debut for Boston. He would join the lineup behind David Ortiz, a player whom he had been close friends with throughout his career and could still serve as a type of mentor to him.

Boston is the city where star baseball players’ careers come to die. Time and time again, the Red Sox have acquired big names with big price tags, only to see them struggle and fail. The disappointing performances of Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Julio Lugo were fresh in everyone’s minds when Ramirez was brought to Boston alongside Pablo Sandoval to begin 2015.

But the Red Sox are also known for getting great seasons out of players who were good fits in Boston, such as Ortiz and Shane Victorino. It seemed certain that Ramirez would be in the latter group.

Hanley even appeared to confirm that on Opening Day when he hit two home runs, including a grand slam in an 8-0 victory over Cole Hamels and the Phillies. Being an athletic player who had managed to play shortstop for most of his career, the organization believed he would be able to thrive in left field.

He continued his hot hitting through April, putting up an OPS of .949 with 10 home runs in his first 24 games. But all that changed on May 4, when he collided into the wall while tracking down a fly ball and injured his left shoulder, which he had already had two surgeries on in the past. Ramirez struggled throughout the rest of May, hitting just .239 with two home runs. But he seemed to have made a full recovery when he put up a strong month of June, posting a .338 average.

The injury bug struck him again at the end of the month when he was hit on the wrist by a line drive from teammate Xander Bogaerts. And although he did not miss any time on the IL once again, he was never the same that year.

He finished out his first year in Boston by struggling to the tune of a .556 OPS and an average of .193 before getting shut down for the season in August due to continuing issues with his shoulder. His inconsistent hitting combined with his disastrous fielding gave him a fWAR of -1.2 for the season.

However, expectations were still high for Ramirez entering 2016. After all, he had played quite well when he was healthy, and one couldn’t quite blame him for being derailed by a series of injuries — injuries partially attributed to a position change he was not ready for.

Hanley did not disappoint. He hit .286 with 30 home runs, and his defensive play at first base was an improvement over his stint in the outfield, making only four errors the whole season. His .866 OPS was his best in a full season since 2009.

Just as the Red Sox slugger seemed to be hitting his stride, he turned into a full-blown disaster. His offensive production sputtered in 2017, and it started to become obvious that his defensive play at first base was far from passable.

Once again, the injury excuse was used. He seemed to be limited by a nagging left shoulder problem that would not go away and had to have surgery at the end of the season. As a result, fans were optimistic once again entering 2018. Han-Ram was slotted in at the No. 3 spot in the lineup with newly acquired slugger J.D. Martinez protecting him in the cleanup spot.

Everything seemed to be running smoothly at the end of April, as Ramirez and his .330 batting average had led the Red Sox to the best record in baseball. But his production took a rapid turn for the worse, hitting just .163 in May. To make it worse, his defensive WAR was already -0.4 despite the fact that he spent a large portion of his games at DH.

On the other hand, Mitch Moreland was amidst a campaign that would culminate in an All-Star nomination. J.D. Martinez had an OPS of 1.029, and with Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi all producing at a high level in the outfield, there was simply nowhere to put Ramirez. He was the odd man out, and was released in late May.

It was somewhat of a surprise move at the time. In 44 games, he had hit .254 with six home runs. Such a stat line is certainly not ideal, but it doesn’t usually result in a player losing his job. Also, Hanley at his best is far better than any replacement the Red Sox could fish out of AAA.

It is far too easy to get influenced by the name on the back of the player’s jersey. After all, this was Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star who was once considered one of the best players in baseball. But the truth is, if almost anyone had played the way Ramirez had, he would have been long gone. His career fWAR in Boston was a whopping 1.1. To put it in perspective, three weeks of play from 2018 Mookie Betts was more valuable than four years of Ramirez.

Hanley was aging, clearly out of his prime, and still had a high risk of ending up on the injured list. Furthermore, according to Alex Speier in his book Homegrown, he often made light of the intense preparation Red Sox hitters were doing before a game and may have even had a negative influence on Rafael Devers and Christian Vazquez, both of whom struggled in 2018.

The amount of playing time he would be allowed to get was limited anyway ― if he had gotten 1050 plate appearances between 2017 and 2018 he would have had another year and $22 million added to his contract. Pawtucket was full of talented, major-league-ready players, and apparently management thought they deserved their shot.

This paid off in the form of reliever Ryan Brasier, who went on to become a major piece of the Red Sox bullpen and was even a bit of a postseason hero. To top it all off, Brasier had the same bWAR in half of a season as a relief pitcher as our $88 million man did in his entire tenure with Boston.

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Perhaps if the Red Sox had let him play first base from the start, or if he got his shoulder surgery earlier during the 2017 season we may have looked back on Hanley Ramirez’s time in Boston differently. Maybe he would have been remembered as a fan favorite, a World Series champion, or just a good memory for Red Sox Nation. Instead, we remember him as just another one of Boston’s free agent busts.