Why the Red Sox Need Youth, Not Pablo Sandoval or Hanley Ramirez
In 2012, the Red Sox shipped away the massive contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford. In return, the Sox got small contracts and a bevy of young players to stock their minor league system.
In 2013, the Red Sox struck gold, having a great balance of youth and veterans and timely hitting, which eventually won them the World Series.
Last season, the Red Sox all got a year older. David Ortiz kept swinging for the fences, but other veterans lost their magic that was found in the postseason of 2013 and left the Sox scrambling. Youth was brought up sooner than expected, but the news was more bad than good.
The fast track of players such as Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradely Jr., and Mookie Betts can explain a panicked 2014 season, but that doesn’t mean they’re not big-league talent. It means that the front office the Boston Red Sox should plan carefully for 2015.
At this point, positions are not set in stone, but it seems logical to assume that the Panda will stick on the hot corner and HanRam will take over in left field. If that’s the case, I see three big problems for the Sox despite their best intentions.
Now that rumors have been confirmed, Hanley Ramirez is becoming a part of the Red Sox yet again (he was their top prospect when traded to Florida in 2007), the Sox will have an opportunity to strengthen their options in left field. Ramirez has shown with the Dodgers that he can still hit for 20-plus home runs in a season but doesn’t have experience in the outfield.
But is it worth signing that type of a player to a long term contract for $88 million over the course of four years? Sure his OPS and slash were great in 2013, but Ramirez regressed back to his career norm in 2014.
Ramirez had a spectacular half of a season for the Dodgers before getting hurt. But he regressed considerably when he came back this past season. Not only did he miss time in 2013 (and even a little last season), but Ramirez missed 70 games in 2011 as well. Is a 31-year old in left field better than the other options the Sox currently have?
The massive logjam in the outfield starts with Jackie Bradley Jr., as he was already exposed to the majors last year but ended the season in AAA. He could be the fourth outfielder if he can't win a starting spot for 2015.
The Sox did make a move for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline, but he is the top, non-prospect trade asset now.
We can’t forget super-utility guys like Allen Craig and Brock Holt either. The Red Sox certainly have options for the outfield, and we haven’t even mentioned the use of Bryce Brentz or Garin Cecchini in the outfield yet.
Obviously the trade options will be there with HanRam in the outfield. It’s just a matter of what the Sox get for Cespedes and who else ends up in other possible trade packages.
But still, is it really worth it for the Sox to trade away a boatload of potential for an aging player that has never played in the outfield? Making matters worse for potential prospects is the signing of Pablo Sandoval.
While Ramirez's being signed creates more trade opportunities, the signing of Sandoval just further blocks young, budding prospects. The next young prospect that looked ready to make the jump to the majors is third basemen and outfielder Garrin Cecchini.
Cecchini could have continued to make a transition to the outfield if only one of Ramirez or Sandoval was signed, but with both signed, he automatically becomes a trade asset or – even worse – a project the Sox are starting to give up on. And the blocking of Cecchini just has a ripple effect.
The best case scenario for the Red Sox prospects would have been for neither Ramirez nor the Panda to be signed. Cecchini could have had an opportunity to make the team in some capacity and maybe even platooned at the hot corner with Brock Holt. If Holt had more opportunities to play the Sox could start to move Deven Marrero (another improving bat and plus defensive infielder) up to the majors as well. And of course, there's Xander Bogaerts as he is still learning the big leagues and can make himself more valuable by being able to consistently play third and shortstop.
Granted, the left side of the infield could be really young and inexperienced, but the long-term effects could show fruit sooner rather than later. Do you really want a third baseman in Sandoval that, despite his postseason prowess, has declined the past three years blocking your prospects?
Looking at the above table, Sandoval’s slash line has been good throughout his career and respected in all of the league but the Sox should be concerned his numbers have dipped a little each of the past four years.
In looking at Sandoval’s wOBA, which takes into account all hits and walks, it has dropped significantly after a spectacular 2011. We see the same with his wRC+ since 2011. But while both numbers have been in decline, he has still been playing above average in baseball for a third baseman. However, do you want your premiere third baseman to be considered above average but declining at the same time?
Health has to be a factor here as well. Sandoval has the “Panda” nickname for a reason – he’s not the fittest player in baseball right now. Given his girth, could he deteriorate over the next couple seasons? If so, the designated hitter spot would be perfect and Ortiz won’t be around forever. But should the Sox really pay $100 million for their future designated hitter? That's a hefty price for someone that might hurt the team's future at third base.
If the Ramirez and Sandoval signings do anything, they allow the Red Sox to package some of their young studs for a starting pitcher for the long- or short-term. There are a myriad of possibilities from Jonny Cueto in Cincinnati, Cole Hamels in Philadelphia, or David Price in Detroit (more likely) - or even Stephen Strasburg from Washington or Chris Sale from Chicago (less likely).
But if the Sox were wiling to spend the money, what was stopping them from continuing with their youth movement and still securing an even better pitcher to anchor the rotation? Instead of one of the pitchers above, they could have pursued Max Scherzer or doubled down to make sure Jon Lester came back to Boston. Signing one of those two pitchers would provide a bigger need as there are a lot of pitching prospects in AAA right now but none are quite there to join the rotation of Rubby De La Rosa, Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholz, and Anthony Ranaudo. And none of them are ready to be the ace of the rotation.
Signing a top-tier starting pitcher would have benefited the Sox even more as they could continue the development of pitchers – mainly Henry Owens – while still pushing forward with a formidable rotation. With the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez likely forcing the Sox to trade Owens or Ranaudo (or both) plus another pitching prospect or two, their biggest strength could quickly become a weakness.
In the end, the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez will make the Red Sox faithful happy for now. They followed up a World Series run in 2013 with a forgettable 2014, but with these two quality bats they should compete once again. The trade pieces to snag a couple quality starting pitchers are there to make the Sox instant contenders once again. But in the end, Cherrington may regret trading away the future for another ring if he must hit the reset button once again in a couple of years.