Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, November 24, 2014

Red Sox Remake Lineup With Signings of Ramirez and Sandoval

Apparently, the Red Sox have gone hog wild in signing both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to five-year contracts worth roughly $100 million apiece (Ramirez will reportedly receive $88 million over four years, with a $22 million vesting option for a fifth year).

Ramirez rejected the Los Angeles Dodgers' $15.3 million qualifying offer earlier this month and became a free agent. That means the Red Sox will surrender a second-round draft pick for signing him. The Red Sox’ first-round draft pick (No. 7) is protected. That's good news.

But are these sound baseball moves? Let's start with the fact that Ramirez will be 31 next month and Sandoval is 28.

Sandoval is 5' 11", 245 lbs. That's a lot of weight for a guy that height, and it has led to concerns about how the Kung Fu Panda will age. Clearly, if people are comparing you to a panda, fictional or otherwise, you are large.

At age 28, Sandoval has already been regressing for four consecutive years.

Here are Sandoval's slash lines from 2011 to 2014:

2011 .315/.357/.552/.909
2012 .283/.342/.447/.789
2013 .278/.341/.417/.758
2014 .279/.324/.415/.739

That's worrisome. But the belief is that the switch-hitting Sandoval will use the wall at Fenway to his advantage as a left-handed hitter. The Sox desperately need another lefty bat in their lineup; they're far too right-handed at present.

Sandoval has struck out only 13% of the time during his big league career, and has never whiffed as many as 100 times in a season. He topped out at 85 Ks in 2014. Clearly, he has excellent plate discipline, something the Red Sox value greatly.

Despite his weight, Sandoval is still a good defender at third, and more mobile than a similarly built guy like Prince Fielder, who plays first. Additionally, adding a player who was instrumental in earning three World Series Championships is a bonus.

Ramirez is the best pure hitter in this year's free agent class. He won the NL bating title in 2009, and led the NL with a 1.040 OPS in 2013, a season in which he also hit .345 with 20 home runs in just 86 games.

The assumption is that the Sox will move him to left field. Given his defensive decline at shortstop in recent years, it's hard to imagine the Sox trusting him there next season.

However, Boston already needed to deal an outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes) to solve their outfield logjam. If the plan is to play Hanley in left, the Sox are back where they started even if they trade Cespedes. That would necessitate yet another trade of an outfielder.

Ramirez was said to be immature and a divisive clubhouse presence in Florida, where he wore out his welcome. It's not common for a team to give up on a young superstar, so it very telling that the Marlins shipped him to LA in 2012, during his age 28 season. We can only hope that at age 31, he has finally matured and will fall in line with the Red Sox.

Most worrisome, perhaps, is that Ramirez hasn’t played a full season since 2012. His injury history is reason for concern as he enters a five-year deal at age 31.

So, where do these signings (assuming they are officially announced) leave the Red Sox budget this offseason? After all, they still need to add two starting pitchers, and one of them could be Jon Lester, who was reportedly offered $110-$120 million by the team.

According to WEEI's Alex Speier, the Red Sox had roughly $45 million to spend after re-signing Koji Uehara. Let's say that Sandoval and Ramirez account for $39 million next season, that leaves $6 million to play with. Of course, there is no spending cap in baseball, but the Sox would still like to remain under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.

Evidently, the Sox aren't done dealing yet, and they will clear some salary to obtain Lester, or some other star pitcher (James Shields?).

How the signings of Ramirez and Sandoval pan out remains to be seen. Clearly there is a lot of risk given the years and dollars involved, as well as Ramirez's durability and Sandoval's weight.

But these deals represent going-rate, free market prices for players of their caliber. San Francisco and San Diego reportedly offered similar deals to Sandoval, and If the Red Sox didn't offer that five-year mega deal to Ramirez, some other team surely would have (i.e. the Yankees).

The Sox struck quickly to shore up their left side infield defense with Sandoval, and they have surely improved their lineup as well. In a typical season, Ramirez bats .300, with 25 home runs. The only guy presently on the Sox roster that can do that is David Ortiz, and he's 39. In other words, that can't be relied on much longer.

Undoubtedly, the Red Sox can afford these contracts. But they still have lots of work to do.

Now they need to go out and get Jon Lester, and perhaps Cole Hamels too. Don't be surprised if Boston packages Xander Bogaerts in a deal to obtain the Phillies' star lefty.

According to Nick Cafardo, the Red Sox have already turned down a couple of trade proposals from the Phillies involving Hamels, and the two teams will likely reopen trade talks.

That would amount to a truly amazing offseason for Boston.

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