Well, that wasn’t great.
While it may not have been as bad as his infamous 2015 season, the 2017 campaign was not kind to Hanley Ramirez. In the first season since the retirement of David Ortiz, the duty of DH fell to Ramirez. In 2016, Ramirez looked every bit like a player that could step in and give you 80 percent of Ortiz’s thump. The team was relying on Ramirez’s right handed power to carry the offense in the absence of the legendary number 34 — but he did not deliver. Poor performance vs left handed pitching and another injury to his shoulder made it a season to forget.
As we look to 2018, there are as many reasons to think Hanley won’t be on the team to start the year as reasons he will be. Along with his lack of production last year, Ramirez’s contract is another big factor that could keep him from having a roster spot come April. Ramirez is owed $22 million in 2018 with a vesting option for another $22 million in 2019 if he reaches 497 PA. The Red Sox may look to trade him and cover most of the money to free up that space for next year’s free agent bonanza. Conversely, the team could surely use his thump to compete in 2018 and if Ramirez can get back to his 2016 levels of production the team would have no issue paying him and allowing that option to vest.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
This is not the first time in his career that Ramirez’s shoulder has caused him issues, however, he still remained in the lineup for 133 games in 2017. Even while enduring the second worst season of his career Ramirez still provided power to the punch-less Red Sox lineup. He posted an ISO of .188 while clubbing 23 home runs and 24 doubles. He ranked sixth on the team in ISO, second in HR, and fifth in doubles. This is probably more of an indictment on the Red Sox offense than a celebration of Ramirez, however, even performing at a low level, he was still a somewhat useful player.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Going into last season, there was an expectation that Hanley Ramirez would play first base vs lefties, whom he has crushed to the tune of .295 average over the course of his career. In 2016, he was even more amazing than usual, hitting .346 with a .331 ISO against southpaws. Early in the year, it was made apparent that his shoulder injury would not allow him to play the field, and after starting 133 games at first in 2016, he started just 17 last season. Moreover, Ramirez couldn’t hit lefties when he was playing first base or DH — he batted a career-low .179 against them. His overall slash line for the year was a disappointing .242/.320/.429 — far less than was expected and needed. Overall, Ramirez was worth -0.4 fWAR and -0.1 WARP with a .253 TAv, which is just one point better than his .252 mark from 2015.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Ramirez’s struggles in 2017 can either be seen as a blip on the radar, or a harbinger of more terrible play in 2018. Through three years in a Red Sox uniform, we have seen two terrible versions of Ramirez and one very good version. If he can come back from his offseason shoulder procedure healthy, then it would be reasonable to expect the 34-year-old veteran to bounce back. Heck, it might even be reasonable to expect him to play first base on occasion considering he only made four errors at the position in 2016. This takes a considerable amount of optimism for a player whose health and effort level have been worth questioning over his career. But I don’t see the glass half full.
If you’re a half empty person like myself, you look at his age, chronic shoulder issues, and his declining Z-contact rate (which was a career low 85.8% last season) as sure markers of decline. Dombrowski has recently made one thing clear — he won’t be comfortable with Ramirez as his primary first base option. Signing Mitch Moreland provides the team with a defensively capable anchor in the corner. Having a reliable glove is of the utmost importance to a team with a young and error prone left side of the infield. It makes the most sense for the team to sign J.D. Martinez and let another team gamble on a Ramirez bounce back. The team has far too much riding on 2018 to risk such an important spot in the lineup on Ramirez at this point in his career, and should pay someone else to make sure they do not have to worry about his contract in 2019.
Photo by Bob DeChiara — USA TODAY Sports