The Red Sox are reportedly on the verge of signing Hanley Ramirez for something “in the range” of $90 million over five years, according to Ken Rosenthal. The vagueness associated with the “range” wording means that we don’t know exactly how many years or how many dollars Ramirez is getting, but it seems like anything in the range of $90 million for Ramirez is going to be a pretty good deal for the Red Sox. That said, we’ll hold off on a full analysis of the contract until we actually know what the contract is going to look like.
So for now, let’s talk about what this move does to the Red Sox roster and the rest of their offseason plans.
As it stands at the moment, the Red Sox starting line-up probably looks something like this.
1. Mookie Betts, RF (R)
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (R)
3. David Ortiz, DH (L)
4. Hanley Ramirez, 3B (R)
5. Mike Napoli, 1B (R)
6. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (R)
7. Xander Bogaerts, SS (R)
8. Rusney Castillo, CF (R)
9. Christian Vazquez, C (R)
First off, that line-up is really good, and maybe the best in the league, depending on what kind of production you think they could expect from the three kids at the end of the line-up. But you’ll note the pervasive use of (R)’s; it is difficult to not notice the Red Sox remarkable line-up imbalance.
Of the 13 players listed, 11 of them hit from the right side, and one of the two who doesn’t is on the roster for versatility, not offense. Sure, there are ways to make this group slightly more left-handed, including the likes of Daniel Nava or the recently claimed Juan Francisco in lieu of one of the reserves listed above, but the left-handed bats on the Red Sox 40 man roster aren’t going to crack their starting nine. 10 of their 11 primary hitters would be right-handed, and we haven’t even mentioned Will Middlebrooks.
This is why the team’s pursuit of Pablo Sandoval made so much sense. The team had a hole at third base, assuming Middlebrooks was getting dumped this winter, and they had need another left-handed hitter (or two) to provide some semblance of balance to this line-up. Adding another right-handed hitter at third base upgrades the talent base, but exacerbates the platoon issues the team could face, and they’d be vulnerable to every team with a decent collection of sinker/slider right-handers.
Which is why, of course, the roster listed above won’t be the one that the Red Sox go into 2015 with. There are a bunch of moves coming, even if the team did sign Ramirez because they believe they won’t get Sandoval, which we don’t yet know to be true. Let’s run through some options and see what the Red Sox might do both with and without Sandoval.
Sandoval Comes to Boston Too
This seems like the easiest path to predict. If the Red Sox do land Sandoval to play third base, then there are essentially only two options: Ramirez can play shortstop or left field, displacing either Bogaerts or Cespedes. The left field scenario is the easy one, given that Ramirez duplicates much of what Cespedes gives the team on offense. Given the league’s current desire for right-handed power and his reasonable $10 million salary in 2015, the Red Sox could find a nice market for Cespedes, but without losing the skill that drew them to him in the first place.
Swapping out Cespedes with Ramirez is a pretty clean exchange, and Cespedes would probably bring back a pretty solid pitcher, upgrading a rotation that needs multiple arms. But this is the scenario where the Red Sox sign both Sandoval and Ramirez, making it less likely that they’re also getting Jon Lester, so perhaps they’d seek an ace on the trade market instead. And if you’re going ace-shopping, Xander Bogaerts is a pretty nifty thing to be selling.
The Red Sox are far too smart to trade Bogaerts straight-up for Cole Hamels; he’s the kind of piece that would allow them to set their sights even higher. If Bogaerts is in play, then you’re shopping for a guy like Stephen Strasburg or Chris Sale, and you’re not getting hung up on when you ask about that kind of young ace. If the Red Sox really want to push all-in on 2015, then using Bogaerts to acquire a Sale or Strasburg type would likely be a more significant upgrade than anything the team could get from trading Cespedes.
But this seems like a far-fetched plan. The White Sox just signed Adam LaRoche, so they’re probably not looking to dump their ace. The Nationals are likely more interested in moving one of their 2015 free agents, since trading Strasburg would likely mean that they had to build almost an entirely new rotation in two years. And Bogaerts didn’t exactly love shifting over to third base, so it’s not a given that he’d be that happy playing second for a year either.
Signing Ramirez probably makes a Bogaerts trade slightly more likely, but I’d guess it pushed the odds from something like 1% to 5%. Trading Cespedes seems like the far more likely move if Sandoval also signs with the Red Sox, with Ramirez simply shifting to the outfield to take Cespedes’ place in the field and the line-up.
Sandoval Signs Elsewhere
On defense, this is easy. Ramirez goes to third, and everyone else stays where they are. Only that leaves the line-up of eight right-handers, so the team likely has to make some trades to put a left-handed bat or two elsewhere. Cespedes could still be trade bait under this scenario, allowing Nava to break the outfield rotation, or the team could simply trade Cespedes and replace him with another left-handed hitting outfielder instead.
But there’s another name we haven’t mentioned yet who could be expendable under this scenario: Mike Napoli. While he had a solid enough season in 2014, he’s also entering the final year of his contract, and isn’t exactly cheap at $16 million. As a 33 year old with a degenerative hip, he’s probably not in the team’s long-term plans any more than Cespedes is, and might even be more easily replaced, given Allen Craig’s presence on the team. Craig, of course, is also right-handed, but the team could pick up a lower-cost lefty to split first base duties.
Napoli’s not going to have a ton of trade value at $16 million for one year, but he’d bring back something of minor value, and moving his salary could free up the team to make a run at multiple free agent hurlers. Perhaps the money saved at first base buys you James Shields or Brandon McCarthy in addition to Jon Lester, and Ramirez’s signing simply makes up for the offensive downgrade the team would make by shipping out Napoli.
Of course, this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. While the Red Sox certainly want to contend in 2015, this has long been a franchise that has concerned itself with both the present and the future at the same time, and Cespdes and Napoli are the two guys in the line-up with real trade value that probably don’t have a future in Boston. For all the talk of moving Victorino or Craig, the Red Sox might very well be better off in trading their current left fielder and first baseman, using their depth to create job-shares that let them tap into their depth more than just sticking with one clear starter at both 1B/LF.
If Cespedes and Napoli are traded for pitching help, then the OF/1B/DH logjams are mostly cleared up. Nava/Victorino and Francisco/Craig aren’t exactly as sexy as Cespedes/Napoli, but they might be mostly as effective, and save the team $25 million in payroll in the process. Not even factoring in what both players might bring back in trade, their salaries could easily be reallocated to pursuing another free agents starting pitcher. Maybe they even use the savings to go after Max Scherzer; Scherzer/Lester/Ramirez would be a pretty nifty group of additions for the Red Sox, and that’s not counting whatever they would get back for Cespedes/Napoli under this scenario.
This might be just as far-fetched as the Bogaerts trade scenarios, and it seems highly unlikely that the Sox signed Ramirez with multiple trades already in place. More plausible is that they know Ramirez gives them the flexibility to pursue different paths, depending on what things transpire after this. His willingness to play either third base or left field gives the team multiple paths to upgrade, and they might not even know what direction they’re going to take just yet.
But it’s safe to say that this signing is probably going to be a catalyst for a host of other moves. The rest of the winter almost certainly won’t be boring for Red Sox fans.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.