Red Sox report: What does Hanley Ramirez signing mean?

Hanley Ramirez
Hanley Ramirez, pictured here with the Red Sox in 2005, returns to the team that drafted him on a four-year/$88 million deal. (Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

It was reported early Monday that the Boston Red Sox had come to terms with free agent Hanley Ramirez, a former Red Sox farmhand and key piece to the Red Sox 2005 acquisition of Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. The terms of the deal, as reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, are four years for $88 million, with a $22 million vesting option for a fifth year. While the terms seem clear, what the signing means for the Red Sox organization is much more cloudy.

The Red Sox pursuit of top offensive free agent Pablo Sandoval has been well documented, and is perhaps the only part of the Red Sox offseason plans not impacted by the Ramirez signing. While Ramirez does play the left side of the infield (primarily shortstop) and has been long projected for a shift to third base, the Red Sox are still pursuing Sandoval. Sandoval’s agent requested final offers for his client last week, the expectation that Sandoval will make a decision sometime this week. The Red Sox were considered one of the frontrunners for Sandoval since the start of free agency, but are joined by the San Diego Padres and the only team he has ever played for, the San Francisco Giants.

If we work under the assumption the Red Sox do not sign Sandoval, the Red Sox 25-man roster becomes a bit less murky, with Ramirez plugged in at third base. However, with the possibility that Sandoval does sign with Boston still very much in play, let’s explore the other issues raised with the Ramirez signing.

If the Red Sox have both Sandoval and Ramirez and are committed to Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, Ramirez will be headed to a role in the outfield. Now, based on the Red Sox roster in September, outfield was the one position with a surplus. So, why would they sign a guy who would just create more of a logjam in the outfield? That’s a very good question.

With Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Yoenis Cespedes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava and Brock Holt, the Red Sox have at least four extra outfielders. Craig could be used in a 1B/OF reserve role, and Holt should be used in the super utility role he seems destined for, but beyond that, there are way too many outfielders. Let’s break down each:

Rusney Castillo — Castillo isn’t going anywhere. The Red Sox signed him with the intention of using him on their major league roster. However, of this group, he probably possesses the second most trade value. I doubt he goes anywhere, and he is likely to begin 2015 as the Red Sox starting center fielder.

Shane Victorino — This is the toughest part of the equation. Victorino is the best right fielder John Farrell has ever seen. He’s also the oldest and most injury-prone member of this list. With all the young and position-changing outfielders on the roster, Victorino also holds value as a teacher, a la Mike Cameron for Jacoby Ellsbury. Victorino holds more value for the Red Sox than perhaps any other team, although that’s not to say he couldn’t be part of a trade package that lands a top-tier starting pitcher. He seems pretty likely to be traded.

Yoenis Cespedes — The stunning return in the trade that sent a rental of Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to Oakland, Cespedes has just one year left on his contract. While Cespedes is the best-hitting outfielder the Red Sox have, he also has the most trade value, and could net the Red Sox a great return. Cespedes has already been the Red Sox outfielder most mentioned in trade rumors, and the Ramirez signing only stands to make those rumors swirl faster. Don’t be surprised is Cespedes isn’t in a Red Sox uniform come spring training.

Jackie Bradley Jr. — A defensive dynamo, Bradley has struggled mightily at the plate. His talent is wasted in a position other than center field, and with the Red Sox seemingly committed to Castillo, Bradley is likely a goner. A weak-hitting, Gold Glove-caliber defender with plus speed, Bradley seems like the perfect fit for a National League team. (Is your phone ringing, Ruben Amaro?)

Mookie Betts — Betts brought balance to the top of the Red Sox lineup in 2014. A converted infielder, Betts has a lot of value to both the Red Sox and any other team. Betts could be the Red Sox right fielder of 2015, or he could be a major part of a trade for a pitcher. Either way, Mookie Betts is a name you will hear again this winter.

Allen Craig — Craig’s prowess is his bat, which was pretty absent this year. Craig has very low value, but is a good piece to have, given Mike Napoli’s injury history. That being said, if the Reds want one more piece to trade Johnny Cueto, I don’t see the Red Sox holding out on including Craig.

Daniel Nava — It appears Nava’s time in Boston is over. A reserve outfielder at best, Nava doesn’t hold the value of talent or age that the others on this list do. He’ll be a welcome addition wherever he ends up, but he won’t be in Boston next year, unless the Red Sox like him more than Craig (they both can play first).

Brock Holt — The lightning rod for half of the 2014 summer, Holt is valuable commodity that every team could use: a guy who plays his heart out and at almost every single position (he didn’t catch or pitch). Holt is worth hanging onto, but I doubt the Red Sox are listing him as unavailable.

Hanley Ramirez — It wouldn’t make much sense, but it’s always possible the Red Sox turn around and trade Ramirez. They’d have to eat a lot of his salary (upwards of $110 million for a guy who hit only 13 home runs?), but some team may like him and another player or two in the Red Sox system enough to make a deal. Don’t expect him to move, but never say never.

There has also been a rumbling return of talk about Jon Lester’s comments about rather being struck by lightning than eating pizza with Ramirez from the All-Star Game almost 10 years ago. Whether comments about lunch dates made 10 years ago will have any bearing on a potential landing spot for Lester remain to be seen.

The potential repercussions of signing Ramirez to play shortstop are bit upsetting, if that was the intent, so there will be no comments on that. Bogaerts is a vastly better defender and very young in his offensive development. I hope the Red Sox have not given up on him yet, as they have stuck with Will Middlebrooks (another very likely trade candidate) for this long.

If the Red Sox don’t sign Sandoval, they still have too many outfielders, so this piece will remain relevant. The signing of Ramirez is a bit puzzling, but isn’t one that should hurt the team. The Red Sox with Hanley Ramirez in the lineup sounds a lot better than the Red Sox lineup without him, regardless of where he plays.

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