Dave Dombrowski has been in power on Yawkey Way for less than two weeks, but key pieces of the Red Sox’ future are already falling into place on his watch. Perhaps more by luck than judgment, Boston seems to have stumbled across solutions at first base and in the outfield for 2016, providing some much-needed clarity and enabling the front office to concentrate on the elite pitching that is so desperately desired.
Hanley Ramirez, the enigma wrapped in a conundrum, worked out at first base prior to Tuesday’s game in Chicago, with David Ortiz and coach Brian Butterfield teaching fundamental aspects of the position, such as footwork. The plan is for Ramirez to have a “crash course” in first base play as 2015 winds down, and perhaps entering some Major League games at the position, with a view to the slugger becoming the full-time first-sacker in 2016.
This is a logical move by Dombrowski and the Red Sox. Ramirez transitioned to left field from shortstop after signing a four-year, $88m contract with Boston last winter, but the experiment has been a total disaster, with almost every advanced metric ranking the Dominican as by far the worst fielder in all of baseball this year. Even from a fan’s viewpoint, watching Ramirez play left field has been excruciating; his lack of range and agility plain for the world to see. Moving forward, first base, a less demanding though still complex position, would appear to better suit Ramirez, who won’t hurt the team as much in an area requiring less range.
Similarly, moving Hanley to first allows the Red Sox to go with a dynamic arrangement of Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo in the outfield, which should excite fans immensely. We’ve seen fleeting glimpses of this trio playing together, and the result have been fantastic.
Castillo has looked like a very good Major League player on his latest tour of duty, hitting .391/.426/.625 in August, while Betts continues to blaze a trail with phenomenal production. Meanwhile, Bradley Jr. finally looks to have discovered the formula for hitting at the big league level, with a .344/.427/.734 slash line in August complimenting his sensational defense, which, replacing Hanley’s incompetence, will turn a current weakness into a standout strength for the Red Sox.
This move will also make the roster more nimble and sustainable. Bradley Jr., Betts and Castillo have a combined age of 25, meaning the Red Sox could have an outfield stocked with five-tool players about to enter their prime years together. When coupled with Blake Swihart at catcher and Eduardo Rodriguez in the rotation, Boston appears to have a strong core of cost-controlled, homegrown stars.
Thus, despite an awful win-loss record and perhaps another last-place finish for the Red Sox, Dombrowski has inherited a neat framework around which to add external upgrades. Throughout his illustrious career, the new President of Baseball Operations has always excelled at acquiring elite, veteran talent, and he will probably look to do the same here in Boston.
Who he pursues, and through what means, is obviously unclear right now. A bonafide ace has to be the top priority, as Dombrowski has already hinted, but Red Sox fans can rest assured that, finally, after a torturous journey, the young core seems to be ready. Moreover, an attempt at solving the Hanley Ramirez problem is underway, as Boston primes itself for a genuine revival, rather than another false dawn, in 2016 and beyond.