In November of 2014, the Boston Red Sox signed veteran Hanley Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million contract, with a possible fifth year. Looking to rebound from a disappointing last-place finish the previous season, the Sox, under former General Manager Ben Cherington, acquired Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, among others, in an effort to bolster their roster and return to their winning ways.
Ramirez played left field for the first time in his career, and in an injury-riddled season, left much to be desired. In 430 plate appearances, “El Trece” hit for a .249 average with 19 home runs and 53 runs batted in. In the outfield, he was absolutely atrocious. He tallied a league-worst minus-19 defensive runs saved in just 92 games.
Now entering his eleventh full season in the majors, Ramirez will try to change positions for a third time. The three-time all-star began his professional baseball days as a shortstop before moving over to third base. This season, he will transition to first base and hopes to be more consistent defensively.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Ramirez said he is “really happy” and “really excited” to get back to playing an infield position. Regarding how he and the other infielders are preparing for the transition, he added, “We’re going to work a lot. I just want to make my infielders comfortable… That’s the main key right now.”
Ramirez is saying and doing a lot of the right things. He has been open to the media about how he wants to improve upon his performance last season, and has arrived early to spring training to get some more work in. He has even challenged some of his doubters, keeping the possibility of winning a Gold Glove award in play.
Despite all of this, however, Ramirez has much to prove.
He came out of the gates at a blistering pace last season, hitting ten homers in April before trailing off with iffy play and time on the disabled list. Fans questioned his effort, as he frequently exhibited sloppy defensive play, poor veteran leadership and an inconsistent plate approach. At the end of the season, Sox management asked him to slim down by about fifteen pounds before the season to try to regain some of his athleticism and announced he would be removed of his outfield duties and moved to first base in 2016.
The bottom line for Ramirez is this: it’s all in his control.
He has the ability. Although the 32-year-old may not be able to put up some of the same lofty statistics – 30 home runs, a .340 batting average, 50 stolen bases, .983 fielding percentage, etc. – that he did earlier in his career, he certainly can earn his massive salary and rack in representative numbers. At the MLB level, he still has elite hitting and adequate fielding skills.
On the other hand, he could continue the trend that he began last year. While new President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski likely will not allow Ramirez, Sandoval and others who underachieved last season much leeway, nothing can stop them from simply showing up, collecting their game checks, and going through the motions with little care for team and individual results. Having been knocked in the past for his dicey competitiveness and lackluster attitude, Ramirez could take the transition to first base as a stepping-stone to the designated hitter position after David Ortiz retires at the conclusion of the season. In short, he could laugh his way through the season and to the bank either way – whether the team finishes first or last and regardless of his own play.
It’s in his hands. Hanley Ramirez could be a dream or a nightmare for the Red Sox at first base this season; how he performs could very well determine the outcome of Boston’s 2016 campaign.