Hanley Ramirez’s release became official yesterday afternoon when he went unclaimed on waivers, and he’s now a free agent who is eligible to sign with any big league team. Because the Red Sox are paying the roughly $15MM remaining on his 2018 salary, any new club can sign him to a big league deal that guarantees him only the pro-rated league minimum — roughly $358K. The vesting option that was on his last contract was torn up the moment he was released, so he’s free to sign anywhere on a straight one-year deal.
The 34-year-old Ramirez was outstanding in April (.330/.400/.474) and abysmal in May (.163/.200/.300), and his overall .254/.313/.395 batting line through 195 plate appearances checks in well south of a league-average bat in the estimation of metrics like OPS+ (88) and wRC+ (90).
It’s not especially difficult to see what contributed to his downfall when looking at his batted-ball data in each month. Fangraphs credited Ramirez with a whopping 40.3 percent hard-contact rate in April, and he posted an excellent 24.7 percent line-drive rate that month. In May, his hard-hit rate plummeted to to just 20.9 percent, and his line-drive rate dropped to 4.5 percent. The cause of that deterioration in quality of contact, of course, will be up to his next team to determine, but it’s clear that Ramirez was going through something more than a mere BABIP-fueled slump.
Where exactly he’ll sign in the coming days figures to be a source of no small amount of speculation (both here and elsewhere). Ramirez’s recent plate appearances were clearly not encouraging, nor was a 2017 season in which he battled shoulder injuries and hit just .242/.320/.429, albeit with 23 homers. Ramirez hasn’t had a healthy, productive full season in the big leagues since slashing .286/.361/.505 with 30 big flies and 28 doubles in 620 PAs with the 2016 Red Sox. It’s a lot to expect him to return to that at age 34, even if his shoulder is recovered from 2017’s injuries.
Still, Ramirez is a no-risk proposition for any club that signs him, and if he can provide even slightly above-average production at the plate, he’d be a fine asset to acquire at the minimum rate. Given his track record and the relative peanuts he’ll cost, it’s a virtual lock that Ramirez will sign with what will be his fourth MLB organization over the next few days.
The Rockies jump out as an immediate potential fit. Ian Desmond has been their primary first baseman, but they’ve cycled through a few players at the position and received a disastrous .190/.277/.346 from their first basemen on the season. Ramirez wouldn’t even need to improve upon his overall season output to date in order to represent a massive upgrade for the Rox; merely hitting at a below-average but still-competent rate would improve their lineup substantially.
The Mets have been an oft-speculated fit for Ramirez on Twitter, but Adrian Gonzalez and Wilmer Flores have formed roughly average platoon at first base, and it’d be a surprise to see the Mets jettison one veteran first baseman with an average bat to pick up another who hits from the same side of the dish as Flores.
Braves fans have suggested that Ramirez could play third for them as a bridge to prospect Austin Riley, but it doesn’t seem likely that any club would give Ramirez regular reps at a position other than first base. Still, Atlanta did roll the dice on a comeback tour at the hot corner for Jose Bautista, so perhaps the idea shouldn’t be entirely dismissed.
Generally speaking, the bulk of the contending clubs in the National League have received solid production at first base, so it’s seems far more likely he’ll end up in the American League rather than get buried as a bench bat on an NL roster. After all, the DH slot can help mask the fact that he’s somewhat of a defensive liability.
The Orioles and Royals are the only two teams who have failed to get above-replacement-level production from both their first base and DH slots on the whole. With that in mind, though, the Orioles already have three first base/DH types on their roster and therefore would have to jettison one of Pedro Alvarez or Danny Valencia. Both of those players have been generally productive on the year, so a move to acquire Ramirez wouldn’t make much sense. The Royals, though, have been rolling out Hunter Dozier at first base. He has options remaining, and Ramirez could prove an upgrade if he’s able to put an ugly May behind him.
One has to wonder how much longer the Blue Jays will be willing to send Kendrys Morales to the plate; after being worth -0.6 fWAR last season due to a wRC+ of just 97 across 608 plate appearances, he’s already matched that negative fWAR total in just 141 PA in 2018 thanks to a .208/.284/.344 batting line. Ramirez would provide the Jays with a clear upgrade at DH.
The Rays and White Sox both stand out as teams who would benefit from having Ramirez in the lineup. The Rays haven’t gotten much out of Brad Miller this season or last, while the White Sox seem to have a rotating cast of rookies and sophomores cycling through that slot in their lineup. Still, being that both clubs are in rebuilding phases, it’s possible that they’d benefit more from simply seeing what they have in young players.
We’ll leave it up to the readers at this point. Where do you think Ramirez will end up? (Poll link for app users)