Big Changes in Boston as the Red Sox Raid the NL West

The Boston Red Sox went from World Champions to the AL East basement in a single season, and despite a year when some of the organization’s prized prospects got golden opportunities to display their potential, the team has now reverted to the money game, and is out and about signing free agents, in particular free agent infielders departing the National League West. The two big agreements reached in the past few days are with now former World Champion San Francisco Giants’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and with now former Los Angeles Dodgers’ shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

This raises a significant question that really makes one wonder: what were they thinking? With Sandoval a sure thing to be the everyday third baseman, with David Ortiz coming off

one of his best ever seasons entrenched as the designated hitter, and also with a contract for 2015 and team options for both 2016 and 2017, Ramirez is shut out at the two most likely spots in the lineup. The Red Sox are also set at first base, with incumbent Mike Napoli signed through 2015. They couldn't try him at second base, with the game's best in
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Dustin Pedroia playing there, and all of baseball knows that Ramirez can no longer play shortstop in the major leagues. Xander Bogaerts, rated a can’t miss prospect a year ago, is safe as the regular there for Boston, despite a .240 average for 2014.

So, that leave the outfield. Really? I see two problems with this:

  1. Over ten major league seasons, Ramirez has appeared in 1,176 major league games. In 98 of them, he played at third base, and in the rest at shortstop. He has never played a major league inning in the outfield. But, he is only 30 years old, and is far from being too old to learn a new trick.
  2. The Red Sox already have a log jam in the outfield. How would they squeeze him in?

The blockbuster deal that Boston made late this past season, trading away ace starter Jon Lester, brought power-hitting Yoenis Cespedes to Boston, and he is the player around which their outfield needs to be built. Cespedes has played center field in the past, but the Oakland A’s, who use to pay his $10 M salary quickly saw he was better suited for left field, and this is clearly his best spot. Just guessing, but I’d have to say that left would be the best fit for Ramirez as well, if he is to move to the outfield. 22-year-old rookie Mookie Betts showed speed, power, excellent defense, and hit .291 over 52 games last season, and even a casual observer would think he has to be the starter in center for the 2015 Red Sox. This leaves right field with a crowd that as of now includes their big 2013 free agent signee, Shane Victorino, who had an injury-plagued 2014, receiving $13 M for appearing in a grand total of 30 games. He and his $13 M 2015 paycheck would have to get a bulk of the playing time in right, except, Ramirez will be getting $22 M this coming season, and for the one after that, and for the one after that, and for the one after that, and maybe even for the one after that.

Boston also has another top young outfield prospect in Jackie Bradley, Jr., Allen Craig, who they received late in the season in the deal with the Cardinals for John Lackey, and who, despite a horrible couple of months in Boston, has been a proven power-hitting run producer with a .282 lifetime average, Daniel Nava, who was a regular for the past two
seasons, and Rusney Castillo, another Cuban import who the team signed late last season for the sum of $72.5 M over seven years. That contract screams out for playing time.

So what in the world are the Red Sox going to do with so many everyday players? The answer lies with the pitching staff. It would seem obvious that several of the aforementioned players, as well as a few of the extra infielders such as Will Middlebrooks and Brock Holt, will have to be trade bait to improve the currently awful starting staff that was decimated last season by trades that saw four starters dealt away. Besides losing Lester and Lackey in the deals for Craig and Cespedes, Jake Peavey (who had not been with the Red Sox for too long, making only 20 appearances for Boston) and Felix Doubront, who had spent two-and-one-half seasons in the Red Sox rotation, were also traded away.

Boston is playing in what is far from the best division in the majors, so a measure of overall improvement, now most needed with the pitching, and they could move back up to the top of the East, where they use to roost. Just don’t go giving out any more of the long-term, multi-million dollar contracts to players without a position.

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