Why the Red Sox parted ways with Hanley Ramirez

The Boston Red Sox decided to designate Hanley Ramirez for assignment, and the reason why can be summed up succinctly: He’s expensive and not that good.

The Red Sox still owe him about $15 million for the rest of the season (no team is going to pick up the salary), so they’ll be eating that no matter what. But what they really want to avoid is paying Ramirez $22 million in 2019. That option vests if he receives 497 plate appearances this year, and with 195 already, he was on pace to pass that total.

So, dump him now — the Red Sox have seven days to trade him or release him — and save $22 million next year. Makes sense.

As for his production, that’s no loss either. He’s hitting .254/.313/.395. He ranked 117 out of 165 regulars with a .315 wOBA and, yes, the Diamondbacks aren’t going to cut loose Paul Goldschmidt and his .314 wOBA. But the difference is, Ramirez also wasn’t good in 2015 or 2017. In his four seasons with the Red Sox, he provided above-average offense in only 2016. You need more than that from a DH or first baseman.

With Dustin Pedroia returning, there was no need for Ramirez, even as a depth piece. Mitch Moreland has been hitting well with a .311/.390/.612 line, plus he’s the superior defender at first base. J.D. Martinez is the regular DH, and when he plays the outfield, you can slide Pedroia into the DH role. With Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez as your utility guys, plus Blake Swihart and a backup catcher, there simply wasn’t room to carry Ramirez anyway.

Dumping Ramirez puts a wrap on two of the worst contracts in Red Sox history — or anybody’s history. After winning the 2013 World Series, the Red Sox fell to 71-91 in 2014. GM Ben Cherington’s fix: Sign Ramirez (four years, $88 million guaranteed) to play left field and sign Pablo Sandoval (five years, $95 million guaranteed) to play third base. Ramirez had never played the outfield before and had been injured in three of the previous four seasons. Sandoval’s weight issues made his future murky.

The reasoning, in part, was both players were good contact hitters. At the time, all the rage was the importance of contact hitting in the postseason. The Giants and Royals had reached the World Series with high contact skills. The Cardinals had had success in the postseason. Ramirez and Sandoval had low strikeout rates and had hit well in the postseason. Of course, staring down those teams were the 2013 Red Sox, who were above the league average in strikeouts.

The signings would cost Cherington his job. Ramirez was a complete disaster in left field, with minus-19 defensive runs saved in 2015 in just 92 games out there. He didn’t hit either. Neither did Sandoval, as both produced sub-.300 OBPs that year. They combined for minus-2.2 WAR. The Red Sox finished 78-84, and Cherington was fired in August.

Sandoval would play just three games in 2016 after injuring his shoulder. He didn’t hit in 2017 and was released. The Red Sox will still owe him $18 million in 2019 (plus a $5 million buyout for 2020). For $183 million, the Red Sox received a combined minus-0.7 WAR.

And everyone was wondering why teams were shying away from free agents last winter.

The question is whether or not this could have been predicted. In part, yes. While you wouldn’t have expected Ramirez’s bat to decline so suddenly, the left-field experiment was an enormous risk, given few players had ever transitioned from infield to outfield at that age. Sandoval was obviously a red flag, especially in leaving his comfort zone in San Francisco. The Red Sox focused on one thing — contact hitting — and dismissed all the potential negatives.

Luckily, they’re the Red Sox. With the highest payroll in the game — $66 million higher than the Yankees! — they can afford mistakes. Still, it’s not fun handing over $40 million to two players not on your roster.

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