Hanley Ramirez’s days as a left fielder — or even an infielder who plays on the left side of the diamond — look to be coming to a close, as he told the Boston media today that he will transition to first base for the 2016 season (via the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman, on Twitter). Ramirez, in fact, said he may play there a bit before the end of the current season. He worked out at the position today and said he’s looking forward to the transition.
While position changes aren’t exactly the normal sort of thing we cover at MLBTR, Ramirez’s new defensive home will have a significant impact on the Red Sox’ roster construction. For one thing, it allows the team to move forward with a future outfield alignment of Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. It also lessens the likelihood of the Sox searching for a first baseman this winter, which many had previously believed to be one of the team’s greatest needs behind improving the pitching staff (both in the rotation and in the bullpen).
The move does seem to further diminish the chances that the Red Sox will receive some positive value out of Allen Craig, whom the team acquired in the July 2014 trade that sent John Lackey to the Cardinals. Craig was outrighted off the 40-man roster earlier this season and went unclaimed due to his recent struggles and relatively sizable contract. Since heading to Pawtucket, he’s shown strong on-base skills but little in the way of power, slashing .272/.369/.341 with three homers. Boston still owes him $21MM through the end of the 2017 season.
Also impacted by the switch will be rookie first baseman Travis Shaw, who is currently hitting .329/.376/.600 with six homers in 93 plate appearances. Those numbers don’t line up with the 25-year-old’s minor league track record, but his excellent numbers to date did seem to have him in line to be a candidate for regular duty at first base next season in the absence of a move to solidify first base. Shaw played quite a bit of third base in the minors this season, so he could still be a 25-man roster candidate next Spring in a bench capacity at the very least.
Boston will hope that moving Ramirez from the outfield to first base restores some of the lost production in his bat. The 31-year-old is hitting just .254/.296/.435 on the season, and that overall line conceals how great his struggles have been for much of the year. Ramirez got off to a blistering start, batting .293/.341/.659 with 10 homers in the month of April. Since that time, he’s batted a paltry .244/.284/.376 with nine homers in 82 games. Additionally, he’s been arguably baseball’s worst defender. No qualified fielder at any position has posted a mark worse than Ramirez’s -19 Defensive Runs Saved, and his -16.7 Ultimate Zone Rating is also the worst in baseball (narrowly edging out teammate Pablo Sandoval’s -16.1).
One can still imagine, of course, scenarios in which new Boston president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski attempts to unload the remaining $68.25MM on Ramirez’s four-year, $88MM contract this winter. Although in order to do so, he’d almost certainly have to take on another undesirable contract, as there figure to be few takers for a player that’s been below replacement level in 2015 and is owed $22.75MM annually through the 2018 season.