Hanley Ramirez Deserves More Praise

Entering the season, Hanley Ramirez caused plenty of debate across New England. After signing a four-year, $88 million deal to rejoin the Red Sox, Ramirez delivered a sub-par season in 2015, leading many to question his future in Boston. Hanley hit just .249 last year with 19 home runs and only 12 doubles. He was also one of the worst defenders in baseball, as judged by a slew of metrics. Therefore, little was expected of him entering 2016.

Hanley Ramirez

Unlike his under-performing sidekick Pablo Sandoval, Ramirez was willing to make sacrifices to prolong his Red Sox career. Hanley recommitted to a winter training program and agreed to move positions yet again. First base became his new home and fans at least appreciated the effort. Nevertheless, few dared expect anything other than league average performance at best in 2016, with many bracing for something far worse. Thus, his strong resurgence in recent months has been a pleasant surprise.

The Resurgence of Hanley Ramirez

With David Ortiz soaking up much of the attention, Hanley Ramirez has found the time and space to rediscover himself. While the power numbers of old may never return, Ramirez has been a steady contributor at the plate. As August rounds into view, he’s currently hitting .283 with 11 home runs and 54 RBI. Ramirez has already surpassed his RBI total from last season with over two months remaining, while his on-base percentage has risen by seventy points.

Defensively, Hanley has also been decent. He ranks fifteenth among first basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating and has made only three errors all season. Of course, first base isn’t the most demanding of positions, especially for a former shortstop, but what Hanley Ramirez is currently providing far exceeds what many expected from him. And that should be praised.

Aside from the numbers, Ramirez just seems to have rediscovered some of his old spark. In one game this week, he hit three mammoth home runs, becoming the first Red Sox player to do so at Fenway Park since Kevin Millar in 2004. Those moments of inspiration may still be fleeting for Hanley Ramirez, but they’re far more frequent than last season and are now backed by a solid baseline performance.

Is Hanley Ramirez an elite player right now? No, probably not. A Wins Above Replacement score of 1 ranks him thirteenth among first baseman. The Red Sox are still destined to overpay grossly on this contract. However, it’s impossible to overstate the improvement from last season, when Fangraphs WAR adjudged him to be the third-worst position player in baseball.

Why Hanley Ramirez Deserves More Support

On a spiritual level, Hanley Ramirez deserves our appreciation here. With criticism poring in from every quarter, he identified and made the necessary changes to justify his continued inclusion on this team. When everybody doubted him, Ramirez swallowed some pride and worked hard to win back support. Deep down we must admire that from a human standpoint. The guy has worked his butt off to make Red Sox Nation happy, and that effort should be acknowledged.

We were all quick to chastise Hanley Ramirez when things didn’t go well, and perhaps he deserved it. Even now, nothing is perfect, and there are still flaws in the game of a man paid to be flawless. But instead of getting carried away and looking too far back or forward, we should take some time to stay in the moment and appreciate his determination to salvage some respectability.

Travis Shaw Close to Being Best at Third Base

Coming into the 2016 season, Travis Shaw was the fan favorite for the starting third base job. The reason for this was because Pablo Sandoval came in overweight, showing a lack of commitment in the off-season. Since winning the third base job after a strong spring, Shaw has looked strong and Sandoval is now out for the season due to a shoulder injury, resulting in Shaw having the job sealed. Shaw has been very successful offensively atTravis Shaw home and has done a better job defensively than expected at the hot corner.

Since debuting last season at the big league level, Shaw has been one of the best hitters at Fenway Park. Last season, he hit a cool .329 at home in 119 at bats. This season, the success has continued, hitting at a .387 clip in 62 at bats. Shaw has shown the ability to spray the ball to all fields and looks like a guy who is here to stay.

Shaw has been playing corner infield positions throughout his life, spending time at both first base and third base. However, he has spent less time at third base, only having five starts there last season. Coming into this season, Shaw’s defense was something to watch. With 4 errors on the season through 28 starts, the numbers do not help Shaw’s case. Sometimes numbers are deceiving and in this case they are. He has showed good range and good decision making thus far and as long as he continues hitting, the defense will be an afterthought. With the offense clicking and the better than expected defense, Shaw seems to have it all figured out right?

The answer to that is no. While Shaw has impressed me and made Sandoval an afterthought, he still has areas of his game to work on. On offense, Shaw has to show that he can hit on the road and hit lefties. He has crushed right-handers to a .376 clip but has only hit .143 against lefties. Both of these can be fixed and Shaw should be able to do just that. Last season he hit lefties better than righties. He had a .329 average against lefties last season compared to a .243 against righties. On defense, he just needs more starts and to continue adjusting to the other side of the diamond. He is not a defensive liability but he also is below average this season regarding third base defense, ranking 22nd in baseball in defensive fielding percentage.

Shaw has been a pleasant surprise and the potential is there to be even better, scary for opposing teams. If he figures out left-handers again and improves his play on the road, Shaw is on track to being an elite offensive third baseman in baseball.

Panda is Officially Down and Out

News broke this evening that Pablo Sandoval is scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery in the days to come with Dr. James Andrews. So, I guess you could say the Panda is officially down and out.

For me, this whole thing just doesn’t add up at all. PandaHow can someone hurt their shoulder to such severity after barely seeing anytime during the 2016 season? I mean, did the swing that broke the belt do it? Did he slip getting other teammates Gatorade in the dugout and land on his shoulder? The only logical thing that comes to mind is “pre-existing” injury from his SF Giants days.

Yes, players go through extensive medical check-ups and physicals before signing their name on the dotted line. Teams, to their credit, do extensive background checks of all medical records to ensure that you’re not dishing out $95 million to a broken toy. (Oops, did I just say that?) I mean, everyone surely remembers the Mike Napoli situation before the 2013 season. Tests determined that Napoli suffered AVN, which is a progressive, degenerative disorder that kills bone tissue. Because of it, the Red Sox withdrew their original three-year, $39 million contract and ended up signing Napoli to a one-year, $5 million contract instead.

Hey Panda, Do You Smell That?

So it begs the question: were the Red Sox so desperate to add some star-power to their lineup after coming in dead last in 2014 that something was overlooked? Or was this just a freak-accident that somehow cannot be explained? You’re guess is as good as mine, but quite frankly I smell BS when it comes to the front office and former GM, Ben Cherington.

One thing is for sure—Red Sox Nation has very likely seen the last of Pablo Sandoval in 2016. Sure, he could come back next year after his surgery and be dynamite at the plate and on defense, but news flash…WE DON’T NEED HIM! Why? TRAVIS SHAW.

Rutledge Joins Team After Sandoval Put on DL

Pablo Sandoval was placed on the disabled list this week after complaining about pain in his left shoulder. This is a strange move since Sandoval has seen very little playing time this season. Some believe that the Red Sox placed Sandoval on the DL so they’d have more time to figure out what to do with him. It’s clear that the Red Sox want him gone, but they don’t want to pay out the $75 million remaining on his contract.

With Sandoval’s placement on the DL, Josh Rutledge joins the Red Sox from AAARutledge joins Pawtucket where he started the season. Rutledge hit .284 in 39 games with the Red Sox in 2015, including one home run and 10 RBIs. While Rutledge hasn’t seen much action with the Red Sox since coming over from the Colorado Rockies, he was hitting .316  in five games with Pawtucket before Sandoval’s placement on the DL opened a place for him on the Red Sox roster.

Rutledge joins the team at a time when the Red Sox are struggling to get ahead in the standings. After finally stopping the Baltimore Orioles’ seven game winning streak on April 13, the Red Sox are going to have to re-examine their pitching lineup, especially with Clay Buchholz, who failed to protect the Boston’s lead over the Orioles Tuesday night and left the game with a 10.00 ERA. We’re still seeing hustle and glimmers of hope for a good season from Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, whose hot bats drove in the runs that stopped Baltimore’s winning streak, and Joe Kelly did well on the mound despite giving up a home run. Coming up from Pawtucket, Rutledge is in a good position to ride that momentum, especially if he can prove himself offensively and defensively.

It’s obvious that the Red Sox want to rid themselves of Sandoval, which is really too bad if you think about it. Sandoval seemed to like being in Boston and says he wants to stay. But it’s clear he doesn’t want to put in the work and hustle that is needed to keep his place in the lineup. So while Panda stays in limbo as the Red Sox try to figure out what to do with him, Rutledge will have his chance to show John Farrell and the rest of the team what he has and how it will contribute to a winning season.

History Made At McCoy Stadium as Castillo Demoted

On April 13th 2016, the baseball world was shaken to its core when history was made at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Records were broken, ticket sales skyrocketed and soon the Boston media will be swarming the Triple-A affiliate. Why? Well, with Rusney Castillo demoted to Triple-A, McCoy Stadium is nowCastilo demoted to pawtucket home to the highest payroll of all minor league baseball teams with over 70 million dollars on the books.

Rusney Castillo has more than 48 million dollars left on his seven-year, 72.5 million dollar deal that he signed in 2014. Old friend Allen Craig, who was once a promising slugger with the St. Louis Cardinals, has 21 million dollars (and a team-friendly 13 million dollar option in 2018) attached to his name. And if you want to be even more precise, once Pablo Sandoval joins the team on a rehab assignment they will have easily amassed the 100 million dollar threshold with the 72.4 million dollars remaining on the beefy third baseman.

Rusney Castillo Demoted to Pawtucket: History Made But at What Cost?

All kidding aside this is quite frankly embarrassing to a franchise that has already faced it’s share of criticism from media and fans alike since spring training. How an organization can have players with big major league contracts playing in Triple-A is beyond me, but it boasts an even bigger question—who’s to blame? Easy answer: ownership.

Spending a total of 275.5 million dollars on Castillo, Sandoval and Ramirez was not just a mistake, but a costly one. This team needed pitching in 2015, and they desperately  need pitching in 2016. Currently this pitching staff,including the bullpen, has a combined ERA of 5.40. Yes it’s still early enough that things can, and should turn around, but in the interim this organization is becoming the laughing-stock of the baseball world.

But hey, if you’re looking for family friendly baseball outings with major league talent, head on down to McCoy Stadium. Castillo and Craig will be there welcoming you with open arms. And maybe you’ll even get to see a Panda in action in weeks to come. Now wouldn’t that be a treat?

Former Red Sox Frustrated by Unmotivated Players

The death of the Reserve Clause and the birth of free agency in the mid-1970s ushered in a new era of baseball that saw skyrocketing salaries and multiple-year contracts. For the players, it was a victory over the owners who had sought to limit their salaries and leaveFormer Red Sox them with no room to negotiate. Since then, however, some former Red Sox are saying that huge salaries and multiple-year contracts are leaving current players with less motivation to play as hard as they can.

I recently spoke with Jim Gosger, a former Red Sox reserve outfielder who played for the team from 1963 to 1966. Known as a line-drive hitter, Gosger played in the major leagues for a dozen years, and won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1969. Gosger told me that his years in the big leagues were the best years of his life, and that most players back then played for the love of the game. He said that many players today just don’t have the drive and enthusiasm to play because to them it’s all about the money. “There’s no loyalty to a team anymore,” Gosger told me, “We used to have to be at a certain weight when we arrived at spring training. But now look at Pablo (Sandoval). How do you even get that far overweight?” Gosger’s words echo what many other former players like him are saying today.

I sat in on a Q&A last summer with members of the 1975 Boston Red Sox World Series team that included Jim Rice. Rice said that fans would start seeing players play much harder with more motivation if they got one and two year contracts instead of the six or seven year contracts many of them are accustomed to receiving. Rice makes a good point. If you’re an outfielder with a six-year contract making $5 million a year and you want to take a day off, who’s going to stop you? You’re a millionaire, so what do you care if someone gets on your case for not hustling? For a million dollars I’d lean in and let pitchers peg me if it meant getting on base to help the Red Sox win!

Former Red Sox Players Knew How to Hustle!

A lack of hustle used to get a player benched immediately. During a game in 1977 against the Red Sox, the New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson got yanked from the game by his manager, Billy Martin, for not hustling to field a hit. Jackson seemed to almost jog to the ball as Jim Rice pulled into second base for a double. While Jackson said he misjudged the depth of the hit, anyone watching the footage can immediately tell he wasn’t giving his best effort. It’s worth mentioning that Jackson was one of the game’s first $1 million players.  What’s bothersome to former Red Sox players and old-school fans alike is this lack of hustle makes the game less exciting, which is the last thing baseball needs. Games already last for hours, and while I love every minute of it, I’d love it even more if I saw outfielders diving for catches, or a hitter run his butt off trying to beat out a bunt.