You could count the things that went right for the Boston Red Sox on one hand last season, and Travis Shaw was one of them. The 25-year-old Shaw got the call in May and was gradually phased into the Red Sox lineup, filling in at several positions. A series of injuries landed Shaw with full-time duties at first base, and he was far from a disappointment.
Shaw clobbered seven home runs in the month of August while driving in 16 runs. As the calendar turned to September, he was equally good, posting six home runs and 20 runs batted in. Without a doubt, he was a pleasant surprise.
Why isn’t he starting?
The answer is one guy, Hanley Ramirez. After signing a four-year, $88 million contract last offseason, Ramirez was slotted into left field. Ramirez looked entirely lost in left, leaving the Red Sox no option but to either move him or change his position.
It is difficult to trade a 32-year-old who has played under 130 games in three of the past four seasons. For a guy that is set to make $22 million a year over the next three seasons, teams look for dependability. There isn’t much going for Ramirez besides his occasional power, and I say occasional because he hit 10 of his first 19 home runs in April, meaning he’s almost impossible to trade unless the Red Sox eat a majority of his salary.
Ramirez needed a position and first base was the “answer”. He can’t get to balls at third base, he’s too fragile to play second, and he doesn’t know how to play the outfield. He isn’t going to play catcher and absolutely will not take Ortiz’s spot as the designated hitter. There was really no other option for Ramirez than to pin him at first base, which sends Shaw back to the bench.
Shaw has a good number of critics out there who think his performance was a “fluke” and won’t occur again. The power is legitimate; Shaw has hit more than 15 home runs in three of his four full seasons playing in the minor leagues. Red Sox fans have seen potential talent fade out much too often, most recently with Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks was in a similar situation to that facing Shaw, called up to play in “low-stress” games and the power was there.
Reasons Shaw should be starting
- He’s Cheaper
Why not start a guy who is making a tiny percentage of what Ramirez is making? In doing so, it gives you more flexibility if you are stuck with a good portion of Ramirez’s contract when you ship him out.
- Good First Baseman Are Valuable
There are no signs pointing to Ramirez even being able to play first base. You can’t just stick anyone over there and have them learn the craft. It’s not the most valuable position on the diamond but it sure makes your infielders look pretty when you have someone who can dig out those errant throws.
Shaw is much more dependable than Ramirez. He’s never endured an injury that has caused him to miss long periods of time. Dependability at first base and familiarity with your fellow infielders’ tendencies is crucial. Shaw has some of that under his belt.
Shaw is younger and has more upside than Ramirez. There is no reason he shouldn’t be given time to make his mark. We know this lineup is going to be searching for power after next season without David Ortiz, so he’s not a bad option. Don’t wreck his confidence.
Overall, the ceiling is the limit for Shaw. He’s shown that he has what it takes not only offensively but defensively to be productive at the Major League level. When his time comes, expect big production from Shaw down the road- it’s just a matter of time.