As expected, the Boston Red Sox had a busy offseason in the wake of 2014’s last place finish. They revamped their lineup, renovated the starting rotation, and made a host of smaller moves to bolster their overall depth.
They also went on an enormous spending spree, committing nearly $250 million (not including option years) to three players: Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Yoan Moncada. Was that the best way to spend a quarter billion dollars—more than the entire payroll of every major league team save the Los Angeles Dodgers?
Let’s start with Sandoval, 28, who fetched a five-year, $95 million deal with a $17 million team option for the sixth year: too much for a lumbering third baseman who plays mediocre defense and hacks at almost every pitch thrown his way.
These weaknesses are only becoming more pronounced. Sandoval hasn’t even attempted a stolen base since 2012. His 48.1 percent chase rate—the proportion of pitches outside the strike zone he swung at last year—was easily the highest in baseball. Consequently, his career already appears to be in decline, as his on-base and slugging percentages have fallen every year since 2011. Three straight seasons of sagging production is a worrisome trend that can’t be ignored, especially since thicker players like Sandoval tend to deteriorate more rapidly. He’ll be best suited for first base or designated hitter within a few years, meaning he’s not a long-term solution at third base.
Those deficiencies could be excused if Sandoval were an elite power hitter, but he isn’t. His power is surprisingly pedestrian for a man his size, as he has failed to top 16 home runs in four of the last five seasons. The league-average Isolated Power, which gauges raw power by measuring the average number of extra bases a player gets per at-bat, is usually around .140, but Sandoval has been below that in each of the past two seasons. He doesn’t offer the game-changing clout Boston needs to supplement aging sluggers David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who turn 40 and 34, respectively, this year.
The Red Sox desperately needed a third baseman, as Will Middlebrooks proved incompetent and Brock Holt’s unexpected breakout was likely a fluke, but they didn’t need to splurge on Sandoval to upgrade at the hot corner. Chase Headley, a comparable hitter and former Gold Glove winner, re-signed with the Yankees for little more than half of Sandoval’s take. Boston also could have moved shortstop Xander Bogaerts back to third, where he played almost one-third of his games last year.
At least Sandoval filled a hole. Ramirez, who signed on the same day as Sandoval for four years and $88 million with a $22 million vesting option for the fifth year, only adds to Boston’s already crowded outfield situation. The Red Sox should have been trying to trade away outfielders, not bring more in, especially ones that have never played the outfield at the professional level before (Ramirez was previously a shortstop and third baseman).
Even more troubling than Ramirez’s outfield inexperience is the assortment of injuries that have caused him to miss nearly 29 percent of his teams’ games over the past four seasons. Ramirez has played well when healthy, but he’s going to be 31 next year and figures to miss additional time going forward. Boston better be prepared for long stretches without Ramirez, even though a player earning $22 million per year shouldn’t require a backup plan.
While Sandoval and Ramirez were rewarded for their past performance, Moncada, a 19 year-old infield prospect from Cuba, got paid based on what Boston believes (or hopes) he will become. The Red Sox surrendered $63 million to acquire him on February 23–a huge investment in a teenager who’s never had a whiff of American baseball. It’s one thing to throw gobs of money at someone with a lengthy track record of success; it’s quite another to invest heavily in a player with no track record at all. This gamble looks even more questionable coming just two weeks after San Diego’s acquisition of James Shields—an established ace who could have been had for just $12 million more.
The problem is that none of these signings addressed Boston’s most glaring need: starting pitching. Boston spent all that money, and somehow is still without an ace. Instead they got a fat third baseman, a converted outfielder, and a wet behind the ears teenager. Apparently $250 million doesn’t buy what it used to.