Hanley Ramirez isn’t the best with a baseball glove. In fact, I’d say there’s a decent chance everyone who reads this could field a pop fly better than him. Nonetheless, he is slated to be the Sox’ opening day first basemen. Confused? Us too. Travis Shaw, the young but popular choice for first base, finished out his debut year in impressive fashion. With only three errors in 54 games (in 452 possible chances), Shaw proved that he could compete at a big league level. Ramirez, on the other hand, has virtually no experience at first base. Having played third base, shortstop, and left field, he has been tasked to learn a new and nuanced position in a very short amount of time. Third base, the most similar to first out of his past positions, has not treated him very well. In 99 games at third base, Ramirez has made 20 (TWENTY) errors. In comparison, Pablo Sandoval (who isn’t that amazing at the whole moving around thing either) committed five less errors in 24 more games this past season.
For those that say offensive production is the reason Hanley should play over Shaw, let’s look at some stats. In 105 games last season, Ramirez had 100 hits, 19 HRs, 53 RBIs, and a .249 batting average. In almost half the games, Shaw put up numbers that challenged Ramirez in all categories. In 64 games, Shaw had 62 hits, 13 HRs, 36 RBIs, and hit .274. This isn’t necessarily to undermine Ramirez’ batting reputation, just to suggest that Shaw would not be a downgrade for production at the plate. If we could have the Ramirez from 2006-2010, in which he was a Rookie of the Year (2006), an All-Star (2008, 2009, 2010) and a .313 hitter, this is a whole different scenario, and Shaw doesn’t even sniff a spot over him.
As we’re all aware, this is the Ramirez of today, who is a little more susceptible to injury, and a little more swing happy. At 32, Ramirez is entering the “back nine” of his career, but don’t let 2015 fool you, he is still a very capable offensive threat. As you’ll recall, El Trece had an absolutely blistering April. With 24 hits, 10 home runs, 22 RBIs, and a .659 SLG%, Ramirez set the tone for an exciting year. As the season progressed, however, his performance began to slide. With nagging injuries and little support from the media and fans, Ramirez quietly ended his year in disappointment. Perhaps for the better, he took the criticism to heart and began to work his ass off in the winter months. Reportedly 15 pounds lighter, Ramirez could begin to see some of the mobility that has been eluding him in recent years. In regards to his offseason prep, Ramirez told ESPN’s Rick Webber:
“Everything is in the past now. My whole body, my upper body, my lower body, core, we took care of everything. My shoulder got better. That top hand that I couldn’t use last year—that’s stronger. We have a pretty good plan. Everything went into the preparation, and I feel it right now.”
Sox fans aren’t dumb enough to blindly believe him, and Ramirez wouldn’t be the first athlete to say one thing and show another. However, I think there is good reason to believe that he has been putting in serious work. Although he plays a different position, Dustin Pedroia will certainly teach Ramirez a thing or two about footwork. Similarly, Brian Butterfield, fondly known to Ramirez as Butter, has a reputation for being a fantastic infield coach, and will only be a positive impact for Ramirez’ transition, provided HanRam is willing to put in the requisite work.
At the end of the day, the writings of a college sophomore aren’t going to make President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski rethink his decisions, nor do I think he should. Hanley is a professional athlete, being paid millions ($88 million, to be exact), and should be able to meet expectations by morphing into a first baseman. Although I believe Shaw should be the starter, what should happen, and what does happen are two very different things. There is a lot of pressure to make Ramirez’ gigantic salary come to fruition, so I’m sure the brains behind the Sox are desperate to find a niche he can be successful in. Also, there is the elephant in the room regarding the DH position, as David Ortiz has voiced his intentions to retire at the end of next season. Could Ramirez be switching to first base in an attempt to sustain his health, allowing him to focus on hitting as he prepares to take the DH roles next year? Maybe.
Either way, it’s clear that #13 will be at first come April 4th. If nothing else, it will provide a competitive spark to keep the up and comer Shaw fired up. He was quoted as saying “I’m going to try to build off what happened last year and try to make a push for that job this year”. Nothing wrong with a little clubhouse competitiveness, as long as John Farrell and company are ready to pull the plug should the Ramirez train fly off the rails. I am a big Ramirez fan, but I just don’t think this is where he could be utilized fully. Hopefully for our team, and his sanity, he can pull it together……….Christ, this could get ugly.