In a shocking development, the Boston Red Sox have officially designated first baseman Hanley Ramirez for assignment, as first reported by the Boston Globe.
The move was made to make room on the active roster for Dustin Pedroia, who was activated from the disabled list by the Red Sox on Friday. There had been much speculation that Blake Swihart, who has only had 33 plate appearances so far this year, would be the odd man out in this equation rather than Ramirez.
Ramirez is currently slashing .254/.313/.395 with six home runs and 29 runs batted in on the season. However, he has been stuck in the middle of a dreadful 0-for-21 slump over his last six games and is batting just .163 in the month of May. Meanwhile, Ramirez has been out-preformed by his counterpart, Mitch Moreland, who is hitting a solid .311 with seven home runs through 34 games this season. Moreland, a former Gold Glove winner back in 2016, also provides the Red Sox with more stability in the field at the first base position.
That being said, a move of this magnitude does produce several lasting ramifications on the Red Sox ball club. One aspect that should not be ignored is Ramirez’s impact on the team’s clubhouse.
Ramirez was undoubtedly a positive influence in the Red Sox clubhouse this season. His happy-go-lucky antics both in the dugout and even on the field, at times, made him a lovable player in Boston. Ramirez’s relationship with the Red Sox and their fans has not always been silky smooth, but the 2018 season was shaping up to be one of his best in Boston. Ramirez seemed to have a great relationship with Boston’s new manager, Alex Cora, as well as several of the team’s young players. He was constantly spotted chatting up the team’s young, budding stars such as Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Mookie Betts.
While clubhouse chemistry is not the be-all and end-all for a major league team, one has to wonder how this move will affect the Red Sox going forward. The team is poised to find itself embroiled in a season-long battle for supremacy with the powerhouse New York Yankees. The Red Sox will be tested more and more as the season goes on, and having a stable clubhouse is a major part of getting through the 162-game grind of a big league season.
The financial fallout from this move is where the motive behind it becomes abundantly clear. Ramirez is owed $15 million for the remainder of the 2018 season, which he will receive regardless of whether he is traded or released, because it is part of his guaranteed contract. The most interesting detail of Ramirez’s contract is that he has a vesting option for 2019 that would guarantee him $22 million should he reach 497 plate appearances this season. Unless another team is willing to trade for Ramirez and take on his full contract, that option is all but void now. Should the Red Sox end up releasing Ramirez, he will then be free to sign with another team. However, any contract that Ramirez signs will automatically void his old contract, thus eliminating the vesting 2019 option.
The Red Sox decided to bite the $15 million bullet and designate Ramirez in order to avoid having to potentially pay him $22 million next year. While the Red Sox may use Pedroia’s return and Ramirez’s May struggles as an excuse, the financial reasoning behind the move is crystal clear. From a pure baseball standpoint, it would be extremely difficult to convince anybody that Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are more valuable to this Red Sox team than Ramirez.
Red Sox fans will have to hope that the money that the team freed up for 2019 is put to good use. Perhaps the Red Sox are targeting Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, both of whom will be free agents in 2019. Alternatively, the Red Sox could be thinking about putting that money towards their own players such as Drew Pomeranz or Craig Kimbrel, whose respective contracts both expire after the 2018 season. The team could be looking even further down the road to 2020 when its superstar shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, and dominant ace, Chris Sale, both become free agents. Betts, who becomes a free agent in 2021, could also figure into this decision if the Red Sox are motivated to sign him to a long-term contract before he hits the market.
Undoubtedly, there are sensible financial reasons for designating Ramirez for assignment. However, removing a hitter of Ramirez’s caliber just two months into the season for purely financial reasons is rightfully irksome to many Red Sox fans. The Red Sox have a $230 million payroll, a roster that is built to go on a postseason run, and, as of today, the best record in baseball. This is a puzzling time to start worrying about the 2019 payroll.
Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski held a press conference at 3:00 PM today to address the move and provided some insight as to the reasoning behind it. As reported by NESN’s Guerin Austin, Dombrowski said that Cora was the one who suggested the move.
Dombrowski cited that Moreland is the superior defensive player, thus Cora’s reasoning for wanting to make the move.
When Dombrowski was asked about potentially benching Ramirez as opposed to just releasing him, he suggested that Ramirez would not respond well to that type of move, as reported by Adam Jones of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
Dombrowski’s comments make it clear that the Red Sox were worried about Ramirez becoming disgruntled if they started to take playing time away from him. Thus, rather than dealing with a potential headache, the team decided instead to release him and wash their hands of the situation.
This move could really come back to bite the Red Sox in the playoffs, should they make it there. Ramirez is a career .380 hitter in the postseason and slashed a whopping .571/.600/.714 in last year’s American League Division Series against Houston. Ramirez may have his struggles throughout the regular season, but he hits when it counts. A Red Sox team that has had back-to-back first-round exits in the playoffs the past two years will sorely miss Ramirez’s bat should they reach the postseason again in 2018.
By designating him for assignment, the Red Sox now have seven days to either trade or release Ramirez. Given his albatross of a contract, a trade is highly unlikely, which means that Ramirez is likely to be released outright by the Red Sox. He will then be free to sign with any team, and there will be plenty of suitors looking for a powerful right-handed hitter who can deliver in the postseason.