Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 14 stories of 2014 in Boston sports. This is No. 8: Red Sox bolster offense with signings of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. To read other stories in this series, click here.
Pablo Sandoval comes to Boston after helping the Giants win their third World Series in five seasons. (Elsa/Getty Images)
The Red Sox made some big splashes early this offseason when they acquired veterans Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.
Boston looked for offensive help after the team finished the 2014 season with 634 runs, 18th fewest in baseball. Especially at third base, the Red Sox saw inconsistency and instability from former prospect Will Middlebrooks. After starting a promising career with 15 home runs in 75 games in 2013, Middlebrooks finished this past season with two home runs and a .191 batting average.
Even before the season ended, analysts saw a potential fit for Sandoval in the Boston lineup. ESPN’s Buster Olney said the Giants were worried a team would make a push for the third baseman, who averaged 20 home runs and 86 RBIs per season since his debut in 2008.
“I saw the Giants the last couple of nights, and there’s a lot of anticipation within that organization that someone’s going to make a run at Pablo Sandoval. That team could turn out to be the Red Sox,” Olney said on Sept. 24. “He would fit them in a lot of regards. When I talked to some people with the Giants about that, they were nodding their heads and said, ‘You know what? He’d be a really good fit.’ Because he could play third base, and he had a good year defensively.”
Sandoval went on to have one of the greatest offensive postseasons of all time, collecting 26 hits over 17 playoff games. In the World Series, Sandoval finished with 12 hits and four RBIs in the seven-game set. All eyes were upon him as he grabbed the last out of Game 7.
A few teams emerged as possible suitors for Sandoval as free agency commenced, with the Red Sox and Giants at the top of the list. Sandoval visited Boston for the first time in the middle of November. The Red Sox and the player reportedly discussed a multi-year contract in the $90 million range.
Soon after his initial visit, Sandoval made his final decision: He would be a a member of the Boston Red Sox. He signed a reported five-year, $95 million deal that included a team option for a sixth season. The third baseman said it was time for a different adventure after spending the first half of his career with the Giants. He also said he was eager to play with his new teammates.
“I want a new challenge,” Sandoval said. “I made that choice to be here in Boston because I need a new challenge. The legacy they have here. To show them the fan support they have here. That’s what I wanted to make sure I made the right decision. It took me a long time, but I’m happy to show the fans all the support they gave to this team. Now I want to show I came here to give them the support to go into the postseason again.
“It’s exciting for me to be with Hanley and David Ortiz. Like everyone says right now in media relations, it’s the ‘Three Amigos.’ It’s just exciting to be part of this lineup and this organization.”
General manager Ben Cherington said the team gave ample chances to players like Middlebrooks to succeed at third base. The time was now to make a change.
“Third base has been a position we’ve been trying to figure out now for a couple of years,” Cherington said. “We had some talented players that I’ve been involved in at third base that we’ve given opportunities, but this is an opportunity to add just a really good player, a great person, and a great fit for our team in a position of need.”
But the Red Sox felt third base was not their only position of need, and so at the same time, they pursued a former Boston prospect in Ramirez. Since his trade from the Sox to the Marlins before the 2006 season, Ramirez has become one of the best hitting infielders in the game. He had a .300 average with an .873 OPS and 191 home runs in 10 seasons between the Marlins and Dodgers. But with the Sox having Xander Boagerts entrenched at shortstop, the Red Sox went after Ramirez for a completely different position — left field.
After Ramirez inked his five-year, $90 million deal, Cherington said the newest outfielder would not be perfect on the first day of spring training. However, Ramirez had a strong willingness to get better at the position, which made the decision much easier for the Red Sox.
“I think it’s really a combination of two things. One is his desire to do it and his openness, the willingness to do it in the context that he had opportunities,” Cherington said. “He could’ve gone places and played the infield. He wanted to do it because he wanted to be here. There’s a desire, there’s a willingness to work at it. He’s already agreed to get down to Fort Myers early; we’ll have a dedicated coach with him.”
Many were surprised the Red Sox would spend so much money on older players in free agency. Earlier in 2014, it was reported the Sox most likely would avoid older, expensive free agents. Owner John Henry said his words were misconstrued.
“That was really overblown because one comment quoting a study which says more about the structure of major league compensation,” Henry said. “Players aren’t compensated that well in their 20s. They have to get to free agency, so almost by definition you’re going to get more bang for your buck when a player is in his 20s. That’s just the way the structure is set up. That doesn’t mean you’re not going to go out and sign 30-year old players. You can’t win unless you engage in free agency.
“We always engage in free agency.”
With the acquisitions of middle-of the-order hitters in Sandoval and Ramirez, the Red Sox are expected to improve offensively in 2015. Olney said a weak offense will immediately get a boost from these two.
“So for the Red Sox to land both those guys,” Olney said, “it’s going to be a very different-looking offense than last year when it always seemed like they were bringing a knife to a gun fight.”