Peter Gammons: Hanley, Red Sox Reunion and Free Agent Rumblings Around The League

dodgers hanley ramirez

It was just a few years ago that Hanley Ramirez had the blowup with then-Marlins’ manager Freddy Gonzalez. Ramirez had misplayed and booted a ball that went all the way to the left field corner, and when he failed to run hard after it was yanked out of the game by Gonzalez.

The after words were angry and divided. Hanley was not a popular figure in the Miami media market, and what he said seemingly demeaned his manager. And it was all over SportsCenter.

The next afternoon, David Ortiz sat at his locker in the back of the Red Sox Fenway Park clubhouse, madly typing away on his phone. He was texting back and forth with Ramirez, telling him he had to apologize to his manager and the team, for the Marlins sake, for Hanley’s place in the baseball community.

Ramirez did not take to the idea, not at first. But after a good 20 minutes of back-and-forth texting, he gave in to the man who’d been a big brother figure to him since he was a teenager in the Boston organization. “You’re right,” read one last Hanley text, a kind of Papi-knows-best message.

Nine years ago at this time, the Red Sox traded Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. Two years later, the deal won them a World Series that a kid named Jon Lester closed out. The deal that had been discussed at the general manager’s meetings in Palm Springs and was completed a week later was made while Theo Epstein was on Gorilla Suit Leave. Larry Beinfest knew precisely what he wanted in that deal and brilliantly got it—for Lowell’s contract to go away and for Ramirez to be a Marlin. “We’re not trading for what others offered us,” Beinfest said. “We know the player we want, and we’re going after him.”

Had Epstein been with the Red Sox at the time, the deal might not have happened. He wanted to keep Ramirez and sign A.J. Burnett.

Sanchez has gone on to be a premium starting pitcher. Beckett won four games in the 2007 post-season. Lowell was one of the leaders of that 2007 team, and retired in Boston with respect and fan reverence.

But while Hanley Ramirez made All Star teams and won a batting title in Miami, his career has been tempestuous. It was tempestuous this past season in Los Angeles, and there was no way the Dodgers were going to take him back unless it was on a one year, qualifying offer deal. His defensive numbers at shortstop were among the lowest of any regular, only slightly better than Jose Reyes, whose defensive analytics were near the bottom.

But there has always been this question: had he played his entire career with the Red Sox and with Ortiz as a big brother and been The Kid, not The Diva, would he have been a Hall of Fame level player?

A few weeks back, when the question was posed to Ben Cherington, he called it “interesting.” Cherington had a strong relationship with Ramirez when he was a young kid in the organization. Cherington was structuring the development system that had been allowed to rust when the John Henry ownership took over, and Epstein and him put their ideas in place.

And, barring some unforeseen development Monday, Hanley is returning to the Red Sox. What we do not know at the rooster’s crow is for what role. There are reports that Pablo Sandoval is also leaning to Boston. Which, after the third season of Cherington’s last-to-first-to-last tenure, tells us what he has explained is true—that he, Mike Hazen, Allard Baird, Ben Crockett and the baseball ops folks have plans and alternative plans and alternatives to those alternatives.

They’re trying to bring back Jon Lester, and while on Sunday, two National League general managers said they heard it was close to happening, Lester’s agents still has not heard from the Yankees. The plan is to visit St. Louis the week after Thanksgiving, then perhaps decide at the end of that week before the winter meetings convene in San Diego. Then there are several trade and free agent plans for the possibility of Lester leaving. There are trade and free agent plans for at least one more starting pitcher, even the thought of Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda.

It is unlikely Ramirez would play shortstop. He has been a backup plan for Sandoval returning to the Giants. Or Sandoval could sign, Hanley could move to left field and Yoenis Cespedes could be traded for pitching. Or either Ramirez or Sandoval—whose left-handed bat is important given that Ortiz is their only other left-handed threat—could play first base and Mike Napoli could be traded. And if both Sandoval and Ramirez were to sign, they could go back and forth between defense and DH after David Ortiz retires and be models for statues that will be erected on Yawkey Way and on Tom Menino Plaza.

One thing is certain: Brian Butterfield is going to need a shipment of fungoes. A Ramirez-Xander Bogaerts left side isn’t going to work. In breaking down the analytics for the Fielding Bible voting, Sandoval was actually in the top 30% among defensive third basemen, but he and Bogaerts will be a work in progress as Bogaerts tries to rediscover the angles a shortstop must perfect and play enough innings to improve his internal clock, which the crude baseball background in Aruba never developed (“he played 11 little league games a year—what do you expect,” says Hensley Meulens).

Someone, some way, Cespedes, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz are going to be sorted into some sort of order. Victorino is a team-changer, but he has a myriad of injuries that only he could fight through. Oh yes. Hanley Ramirez has played more than 93 games once in the last four seasons.

When the Epiphany calendar is turned, then we’ll be able to reason with all Cherington has worked on since the 2014 season mercifully ended.

But, in the meanwhile, there is all that the Tweeters, mystics, statistics and opinionators tell us.

Two days after Russell Martin signed with Toronto, a commentator on national radio declared the Cubs off-season “a failure.” Three weeks into free agency.

In Boston, CBS Radio provides us “traffic and weather on the threes” every hour, which is about as often as there are updates on whom Lester may discuss his contract. In Toronto, every free agent is linked to the Blue Jays, and in San Diego the Padres are telling their media that they are all in on Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas. In fact, agent Jay Alou is flying back to the Dominican Monday and will begin finalizing negotiations with the Padres, Giants, Mariners, Phillies, and  the Braves,  whose delegation flew to the Dominican this morning to meet and work him out (is Tomas a 1990s John Hart guy, or what?).

It is that time. We should understand why many general managers get flustered by people in their organizations who leak information. “I just don’t understand why some people feel the need to garner favors by leaking information that actually damages our negotiations,” said one GM. I get it. One of my all-time favorite persons, former Angels Pres. Bill Stoneman, once said, “you should find out what we’re trying to do when the player we acquire takes the field.” He laughed. But he meant it. And that was a decade before instamatic Twitter world completely blurred the lines between speculation, opinion and reporting; a decade before one Oakland official texted, “why would we sign him” to a question about reports that the Athletics were trying to sign Stephen Drew.

“Logical, but still in the idea stage,” was what one Cubs official responded to my theory that Mike Rizzo would sign Max Scherzer in Washington and trade Zimmerman, possibly to the Cubs. Ibid to a Tiger official when asked if Detroit might re-sign Scherzer and deal David Price, possibly to the Cubs.

But as long as you’re not Dave Dombrowski, Ben Cherington, Jed Hoyer or John Hart, it is all good. It keeps us talking baseball and trades and pennant races as the Christmas decorations go up. Back in 1976 when the Messersmith-McNally Decision made free agents of every player not on a long-term contract. The following October the bidding began when Boston signed Bill Campbell and made him the first free agent (five years, $1M). Several columnists predicted the end of baseball as we knew it.

Au contraire, it was the beginning of the year-round coverage of the game. It used to be that the print media shut down except for the winter meetings, and came back out when the snow began to melt. Be it the Boston Globe, New York Times or every other New York journal, from Bill Campbell to Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage to Bobby Grich to Wayne Garland, baseball was on fans’ minds all winter. GMs could bring their signings to the local baseball dinner like toys under their trees.

Now, part of the immediacy of the media creates instant panic. “Now we’ll find out how much the Red Sox want Lester,” read two different headlines as soon as Lester hit the market. Cubs? Failures.

Hey, at the press conference announcing Giancarlo Stanton’s contract, one media person seized the moment to seize the attention by asking him if he were “embarrassed” to be making all this money.

Fortunately, Stanton thinks out and reasons every response, and handled it kindly. Throw that question at Hanley Ramirez Tuesday, or the ever-private, respectful Lester, or Scherzer.

We don’t know where Stanton will be playing 10 years from now. We don’t know where Hanley Ramirez will be positioned in Fort Myers, much less Castillo and Betts. As Stoneman once said, look out on the field, and then we’ll know what they’re doing.

Comments

  1. Peter — any chance that the Sox would move Boegarts to first base? I think he could be really good there, in the high OBP, medium power mode of, say, Don Mattingly, Bill Buckner, or Keith Hernandez.

  2. Benjamin Neumann says:

    You’re the premier baseball journalist of my lifetime Peter and I was unaware of your site until today. I have missed seeing you as much as I became accustomed to and hope you are well. Lester to the Cards is just a feint to push the price up and leave Scherzer to us.

  3. bobbybaseball says:

    Peter, I really like Mookie Betts and think he’s going to be a terrific player. He HAS to start for the Sox this year, you agree? But if so…where?

  4. Any rumors about moving an OF to the Reds for one of their soon-to-be free agent pitchers?