On Monday, the Red Sox made two significant signings; each of which brings high risk and high reward. Tuesday, the signings of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and shortstop Hanley Ramirez to long-term deals was made official pending each player passing their physical.
To this writer, neither of the free agent acquisitions made much sense. While Sandoval is a playoff performer, his body type will likely mean that he will not be more than a designated hitter in three years time. This is a player whose conditioning has been brought into question in his past few seasons. With the comfort of the long-term security a contract of this type brings; will Sandoval be able to maintain good conditioning for the long haul? At 28, the five years is not a significant deterrent, but his 162-game production (20HR, 86 RBI) does not befit a player about to make just short of $100 million through 2019.
On the positive side; make no mistake, Sandoval is a likeable player who will gel well in this Red Sox clubhouse; and one who can really perform when the stage becomes bidder. Nicknamed “King Fu Panda”, Sandoval hit .429 in the 2014 World Series, helping the Giants win their third title in five seasons. Throughout his career, Sandoval is a .344 hitter in the postseason, with six home runs and a .545 slugging percentage in the fall (compared to his .465 regular season slugging percentage). While I am presently quite skeptical about the long-term return from the Sandoval signing, I do see some benefit having a proven playoff performer in Bean Town.
As for the other notable free agent signing; Hanley Ramirez, I struggle greatly with this move altogether. While Ramirez is a known commodity; I am left to wonder which player GM Ben Cherington is envisioning. Is it the player who was the 2006 NL rookie of the year and perennial MVP candidate; or is it the 31-year old player who hit just 13 home runs in 128 games in 2013? To further complicate matters; the Red Sox plan to move the former Dodger shortstop to left field is troubling; as it is a position that he has never played in the major leagues. Consider this fact with the reality that Ramirez is also considered a moody player who has had difficulty blending in to past teams’ clubhouses. For a four-year price tag of $88 million does Boston really need to for incessant drama reminiscent of the Manny Ramirez years? I for one do not think the juice is anywhere close to worth the squeeze.
On the surface, signings of this caliber of players and price to not make much sense. Is it not this same front office that had to jettison hefty contracts of ill-fitting underperformers just a couple of seasons ago? The message delivered then was the Red Sox were not going to overpay for either questionable production or questionable characters. In these two signings, one has to wonder whether the Boston brass has changed their philosophical course once again.
Granted the Boston Red Sox are not (and in this market, never allowed to) stand pat. The success of 2013 Red Sox last-to-first championship team was one that was not going to be easily replicated. Despite above average talent, that team won based on production AND chemistry. The 2014 campaign demonstrated that chemistry takes a team only so far; it must also have talent to win on a regular basis. To that end, the Red Sox had to make moves. In obtaining Sandoval and Ramirez, the only cost to the team is money; something this franchise clearly has as a resource. The signings to present opportunities for improvement well beyond what has been witnessed this week.
There has been much speculation since the trade deadline last season that ace left-hander Jon Lester could potentially return to Boston this winter; and initial indications this off-season are the Sox have strong interest in bringing their two-time World Series champion back into the fold. In addition, Boston has been identified as a suitor of Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels; with the Phillies seeking significant amount of talent in return. Moves such as the Sandoval and Ramirez signings adds talent depth to the roster; depth that puts the Sox in a strong position to obtain the All Star lefty from Philadelphia.
There are still some key areas that the Red Sox must focus on in the months approaching Spring Training. If Boston can lure Lester back and leverage the depth created by signing Ramirez and Sandoval in order to make a trade of a Hamels magnitude; then the current moves may be worth while after all. If not, this high stakes poker game the Red Sox are playing may end up eerily similar to the free spending winter of four seasons ago; with most Red Sox fans remember how that turned out one season later. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I will remain optimistic the former proves true and not the latter.