On Friday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote an article titled “Red Sox need to dump Sandoval, Ramirez, like, now.” He states, in essence, that the Red Sox need to dump Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, like, now. He states that they’re bad fits for Boston and that the Red Sox should have known that and the only way forward for Boston is to send both elsewhere and pay whatever it costs to do so. Suppose the Red Sox did trade Sandoval and Ramirez. Suppose they followed Rosenthal’s plan and got rid of both. What would happen then? Would Boston be better off? Let’s find out!
First, we’ll try to figure out if Sandoval and Ramirez have any value to other clubs. Would the Red Sox be able to receive anything valuable in return for dealing them or would they have to pay the vast majority of their salary simply to make them leave? Sandoval is due $95 million over the five-year life of his contract which runs through 2019. Ramirez will be paid $88 million over four seasons through 2018. Could the Red Sox get anything back for either player? Let’s go back to Dave Cameron’s piece from this past November when the Red Sox signed both players. Dave concluded that, although it was difficult to foresee exactly what value Sandoval and Ramirez would bring to the Red Sox for myriad reasons (read the piece if you’re curious), starting them each off as +3.5 WAR players and adjusting downward the standard half-a-win-per-season for each season under contract is reasonable. So, that being reasonable and I myself being also reasonable, I used those numbers. That methodology suggests Sandoval ought to be worth about 12.5 WAR over his five seasons and Hanley about 11.0 WAR for his four. That’s what Boston looked to be buying six months ago and that’s what teams would be looking at in acquiring those players now.
Except, not really. We now have more information than we did back in November and much of that information points towards less value for each player. We now know Hanley is such an atrocious outfielder that despite a 114 wRC+ (not counting Sunday’s game in which he homered), he has actually cost Boston half a win this season as his poor defense has overwhelmed his offense in much the way that drinking a whole six gallons of milk can overwhelm the fun of a 300-mile car ride. That means to provide positive value to an acquiring team, Hanley has to DH, and that limits the available teams to which he could be dealt. That is, unless there’s a National League team blacked out from watching Boston’s games, and thus still under the impression that Ramirez can play left field at a semi-competent level. In which case, see? The blackout rules could be good for something after all!
Sandoval has also had defensive problems, though his are a bit easier to brush off as something less than career threatening in consideration of his reputation and defensive numbers prior to this season. But that doesn’t put him in the clear. The problem with Sandoval is that, in addition to lousy defense, he’s not hit particularly well. He’s not exactly hit badly either, posting a wRC+ of 103, but for the money he’s making you’d like to get more than three percent above league average at the plate with lousy defense at a non-premium defensive position.
It’s not hard to see that since the Red Sox signed these players, their value has dropped, possibly substantially. It’s not that Sandoval and Ramirez couldn’t step in and help other clubs right now. Quite possibly they could. They’re but a few months past being desirable free agents. The problem is that they don’t appear like they will come close to providing the value for which they’re being paid. If the Red Sox are going to give these contracts away, making the players essentially like free agents to the acquiring team, that acquiring team isn’t going to want to pay them their current salaries. This means the Red Sox will likely have to kick in money to make them leave. How much is difficult to say, but if we assume it’s some substantial figure for each, that leaves the Red Sox having paid substantial money to sign Ramirez and Sandoval and then, not three months into the first season of their deals, paid substantial money to get rid of them. That makes a bad public statement about the people running the team, and it effectively hangs a large banner outside Fenway Park saying “Free Agents Shouldn’t Bother.”
This complicates things when you remember the Red Sox will need to replace Ramirez and Sandoval. But it kinda doesn’t. This is where Rosenthal’s idea starts to make a bit more sense. We’ve read incessantly about Boston’s numerous outfielders, so losing Ramirez wouldn’t really be that big of a problem, at least right now, as the Red Sox have other potentially capable outfielders who could assume left field. For example, Boston could pull Rusney Castillo off the bench and put him in right field and slide Brock Holt to left. Castillo has looked like a mess at the plate this season, but presumably if Boston is dealing their starting left fielder and their starting third baseman for essentially nothing, they’re not trying to win the division this season anyway, so playing a struggling player shouldn’t be an impediment.
The problem comes when you get to Sandoval. Ramirez was a luxury when he was signed, but Sandoval was signed because the Red Sox hadn’t gotten production out of third base in a couple years. The Red Sox farm system isn’t deep at third base, either. Garin Cecchini was a promising player with the ceiling of a starter at third if his defense could ever catch up to his bat, but that was a couple seasons ago. This season Cecchini has been batting around the Mendoza line for Triple-A Pawtucket and while his defense is improved, it’s not enough to justify playing him at the position without an above-average bat, which he doesn’t appear to have. Beyond Cecchini, the Red Sox have Travis Shaw who recently has been playing some third base after spending his career at first. Shaw might be a fine backup first baseman at some point, but playing him regularly at third base in Boston would be the equivalent of playing “on hold” music for the remainder of the season anytime the ball was hit to third base.
There is also Brock Holt, who has shown amazing versatility in playing every outfield and every infield position for Boston this season. What’s more, he’s hit .318/.407/.486 in 200 plate appearances while doing it. It’s hard to believe Holt is that good a player, but even if he isn’t, giving him more playing time might not be the worst idea. But then, as good as Holt looks now, it’s important to note he did this last season as well. In the first half of the season he put up an .834 OPS and slumped to a .548 OPS in the second half. Another problem is, though he is quite versatile, having him play two positions at the same time is probably outside his defensive abilities. Boston could play him at third and go with an outfield of Mookie Betts and Castillo, and then rotate Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, and Alejandro De Aza through as needed. That isn’t terrible, but the problem there is Nava and Victorino are both hurt, and De Aza is bad.
But then this idea was never about getting better on the field. It’s possible dumping Sandoval and Ramirez would improve the clubhouse, and I’m quite prepared to believe it would improve the team defensively. Perhaps the Red Sox season is sunk and they should get on with rectifying the mistakes of this past off-season, no matter the cost. But considering where Boston is now, that seems presumptive. In other words, it’s not at all clear yet that Sandoval and Ramirez are mistakes. What’s more, the Red Sox don’t have talented enough players at present to replace Sandoval and Ramirez, unless you assume the way they’ve played so far in 2015 is the way they’ll continue to play more or less throughout their contracts. But if Boston has to pay their contracts to make them go away, those are mistakes that are going to linger seasons into the future, no matter when they admit it.