John Heyman of CBSSports.com is reporting that the Red Sox are looking to pull “a huge free agent double play” by signing both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Why? What’s the point?
It’s no secret the Red Sox have a huge hole at third base. It is their most pressing need on offense. They have a logjam of adequate, but not great, talent in the outfield. They are set at first base (Mike Napoli), second base (Dustin Pedroia), and shortstop (Xander Bogaerts). They have a young catcher, but there is no need to spend big money on a veteran backup. So why bring in TWO third basemen who will both command close to $100 million each? Sorry, but Hanley Ramirez should no longer be considered a shortstop. He is a serious defensive liability there. He may not be much better at third base. To compound things, Sandoval is a year or two away from having to switch across the diamond, defensively.
Isn’t the point of free agency to try and stabilize your team? Nobody knows what position both of these players could be playing over the course of their next contract. Sandoval is likely to go from third base to first base to DH over the next five or six years. Ramirez is likely to go from shortstop to third base to left field over the course of the next two or three years. How do you plan your team and your future around that? The Sox would be playing a game of musical chairs for the next five years.
If the Red Sox do pull of the double signing, the initial reaction might be that Ramirez would play shortstop in 2015 and Sandoval third base. Xander Bogaerts would be used as a trade chip. However, you would be trading Bogaerts when his value is at a low. The risk of Bogaerts blossoming into a superstar is too easily feasible. It would be foolish to trade him now.
Could the Red Sox trade Napoli, switch Sandoval to first base in 2015, and play Ramirez at third base? That brings back the issue of Hanley’s defense, but it is not the worse case scenario, offensively. The Red Sox would have the potential of having three .300 hitters in their infield, plus a budding superstar at shortstop.
Could Ramirez be moved to left field and keep Sandoval at third base? This, again, would be foolish. There is no guarantee Ramirez can play left field in Fenway (or anywhere, for that matter– he’s never done it). In a year or two when Sandoval needs to be switched to another position, then what? Yoenis Cespedes would be traded in this scenario, which is not a bad thing. He could bring back a nice return and he doesn’t seem to be enjoying Boston very much. The outfield is already crowded. What would the Sox do with Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr., and, most importantly, Mookie Betts?
The Red Sox aren’t too far removed from unburdening themselves of the mistake of fattening their payrolls with offensive “sexy” stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. They shouldn’t fall into the same trap again. Sandoval and Ramirez aren’t even nearly as “sexy” as Gonzalez and Crawford were, but they may require just as much of a commitment.
The Red Sox have huge holes in the starting rotation. They need to be addressed first and not treated like an afterthought. Jon Lester has to be priority one. Landing a starting pitcher via trade like Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Jordan Zimmermann, or even Cole Hamels has to be priority two.
Third base is an obvious issue, but the Red Sox need to make sure they don’t act out of desperation to secure a less-than-favorable stop-gap solution when something far better opportunity may open up down the road. They also need to make sure to leave a large allowance of money in their coffers to fill a starting rotation. Right now Clay Buchholz is the ace of your staff! Ben Cherington may have a plan in place, but if any rung falls apart, they won’t be able to reach the heights they aspire to. Cherington may be thinking three or four moves ahead, but he may need to be reminded not to get ahead of himself. What if news of the Red Sox interest in Hanley Ramirez (a potential third baseman) turns off Sandoval? What if Sandoval wants all of the spotlight for himself? Maybe he wants to be viewed as Boston’s prized offensive acquisition? What if the Red Sox can’t get the ace pitcher they covet with the suddenly expendable assets (Cespedes, Bogaerts) they have? It could prove to be a tightrope act worthy of a seasoned pro like Nik Wallenda. Is young Ben up to the challenge?