According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports (via twitter), free agent Hanley Ramirez is heading to Boston to finalize a deal with the Red Sox on Monday. Rosenthal reported that the agreement was “in the range of five years, $90M.”
Ramirez, who signed with the Red Sox as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican in 2000 but was traded by the organization (with Anibal Sanchez and others) to the Marlins as part of the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston, is arguably the best pure hitter available this year in free agency. One evaluator recently called him the ‘closest right-handed hitter to Manny [Ramirez] I have seen,’ someone who is an impact bat regardless of who’s on the mound. In 2014, Ramirez nearly matched free agent Pablo Sandoval’s numbers against righties (he had a .283/.362/.439 line, compared to Sandoval’s .317/.363/.461) while proving even more impactful against lefties (.282/.393/.476). For his career, Ramirez has a higher OBP and roughly the same slugging percentage against righties as Sandoval and a massive advantage against lefties.
Still, a number of concerns appeared to dampen a potential free agent bonanza for Ramirez. Among them: He’ll be 31 in December, meaning that most of his next contract will fall outside of his career prime; he has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons; his defense at shortstop is poor, and while there is some belief in industry circles that he could represent a quality option at a corner position, his ability to adapt to a new spot represents something of an uncertainty; and concerns about his makeup with both the Marlins and Dodgers have been significant.
That said, those concerns were largely against the backdrop of expectations that a deal could reach more than five years and upwards of $20 million a year. The concerns still exist, but the risk undertaken by the Sox would appear to be at least somewhat diminished by the terms as reported by Rosenthal.
It remains to be seen what Ramirez’s role with the Sox will be. The Sox were one of three finalists for Ramirez’s fellow free agent, Pablo Sandoval. As midnight approached on Sunday night, the team had not given any indication to Sandoval’s representatives that it was no longer pursuing the 28-year-old switch-hitter.
Obviously, if the Sox fail to sign Sandoval, Ramirez would represent an immediate candidate to become the Sox’ starting third baseman. He would likely move off the position to flank Xander Bogaerts. But the team might also be able to fit both Sandoval and Ramirez in its lineup.
The Sox could sign Sandoval and Ramirez, putting Sandoval (who grades statistically and by evaluators as an above-average defensive third baseman) at third and Ramirez at short (thus displacing Bogaerts, who would either move to the outfield or become a trade candidate). Or — perhaps more likely — the team could have Sandoval at third while moving Ramirez (who grades as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the big leagues) to another corner position, most likely left field while keeping Bogaerts at short. In that scenario, the Sox might look to move Yoenis Cespedes.
It may take some time for the dust to settle to determine exactly how the Red Sox lineup will look. But Ramirez represents a bold and unexpected first stroke to the offseason, while permitting the team all manner of flexibility going forward this winter.
Both Christopher Meola (via twitter) and Jake Wesley (via twitter) reported earlier on Sunday that Ramirez’s deal with the Red Sox was all but finalized, with Wesley reporting that the length and salaries had already been determined. While industry sources told WEEI.com on Sunday evening that a Ramirez-to-the-Red Sox deal could come together quickly, Meola’s and Wesley’s initial reports remained unconfirmed until Rosenthal’s follow-up.