Monday, November 24, 2014

Ramirez Rejoins Red Sox

9 years after Boston traded him, Ramirez is back (ProSportsBlogging)
10 years ago Hanley Ramirez was the Boston Red Sox's shortstop of the future, heir apparent to Nomar Garciaparra. Then the Sox traded him to the then-Florida Marlins for Josh Beckett in a move that altered the course of both franchises.

Boston, of course, went on to win the 2007 World Series on the backs of Beckett and Lowell, that year's ALCS and World Series MVPs. Meanwhile, Ramirez blossomed in Florida, winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2006 before earning three top-10 MVP finishes and a trio of All-Star nods over the next four seasons. The former batting champion spent the last two and a half seasons with the Dodgers, helping them to division titles in 2013 and 2014.

Now, Ramirez is returning to the team that signed him as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic when he was just 16. With 10 big league seasons under his belt, the 30 year-old has delivered on the superstar promise he flashed in Boston's farm system. He returns a fully-formed product.

While HanRam's defense has suffered in recent years, necessitating a move off shortstop (likely to third), his bat has remained potent. In 2013 he slammed 20 home runs to go along with a sky-high 1.040 OPS (189 OPS+), followed by a 132 OPS+ performance in 2014. Excluding his two-game cameo with the Sox in 2005, Ramirez has had an above-average OPS in all but one of his seasons--his injury-marred 2011. His bat is most valuable at shortstop, obviously, but still plays at the hot corner or in the outfield should he move there.

2011 was an aberration in terms of Ramirez's offensive production, but it was not out of the ordinary in regards to his health. He missed time the year before that (2010), played just 86 games in 2013, then sat out 34 games last year. That's 205 missed games over the past five seasons, an average of 41 per year. Ramirez is going to be 31 next year, so the Red Sox shouldn't expect to get many, if any, full seasons out of him. But like Jose Reyes, Ramirez is so good when he does play that he still earns his keep: just make sure you have a quality backup plan.

A righthanded hitter with good power (career .200 ISO), Ramirez should excel in Fenway Park. Trading the run-parched environment of Dodger Stadium for one of the best hitter's parks in baseball should help ward off any age-related decline in the immediate future. He's also a versatile offensive performer, capable of hitting .300 with 20 homers and a similar number of steals when healthy. He walks a fair amount and doesn't strike out much, so one would expect him to age gracefully anyways.

The Red Sox are going to pay Ramirez $90 million over the next five years, an average annual value of $18 million per season. That's a considerable pay bump from his contract that just expired, a six-year, $70 million that paid him less than $12 million a season on average. Ramirez is not nearly the all-around force he was five years ago, but inflation and free agent scarcity means he'll be paid more to do less. It's still a pretty good deal if Ramirez continues to play shortstop or third, less so if he moves to left field.

So while Ramirez has question marks about his durability and defense, there's no disputing the fact that he makes Boston's lineup significantly stronger. He's still a four-win player, and I'm more optimistic about how his early 30s will play out than I am about, say, Billy Butler's. The Red Sox didn't need a shortstop with Xander Bogaerts already there, but they could certainly use a third baseman (unless Pablo Sandoval also signs) and a big bat in general. Ramirez fits the bill.

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