Despite Increasingly Bright Future, Ramirez, Sandoval, Hang Over Red Sox Like A Black Cloud

FenwayThe future of the Boston Red Sox seems much brighter than it did just a few short months ago. What seemed like a long and tumultuous rebuild now looks to be a much quicker process.
The organization’s long heralded young talent such as Eduardo Rodriguez, Mookie Betts, and especially blossoming star shortstop Xander Bogaerts appear to be the core of the next contending Red Sox team. The hiring of Dave Dombrowski, one of the finest executives in the game, should give Red Sox fans hope that the team’s desperate need for front line pitching can be solved. Finding an ace is hard, but Dombrowski can do it. The question is, can Dombrowski solve the biggest problem he faces?

Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

If the Red Sox want to turn this around quickly, as they did from 2012 to 2013, they need to purge themselves of Sandoval or Ramirez, preferably both. That’s easier said than done.

Over the next four years, the Red Sox owe Sandoval and Ramirez an obscene $140 million combined, and could be on the hook for an additional $22 million if an option in Ramirez’s contract vests. The market for expensive, aging, declining veterans with some questionable character traits is, unsurprisingly, not a vibrant and active one. If the Sox are so lucky to find a willing (translation: foolish) buyer on either player, they would most likely have to pay a significant amount of their contracts for another team to take them off their hands.

But it’s worth it.

Ramirez, an undeniably talented hitter, under-performed at the plate this year and was apathetic and lazy everywhere else. To say Ramirez looked like a circus clown trying to play left field would be an insult to circus clowns everywhere. Mercifully, the Red Sox say he won’t play the outfield anymore, with the team now looking at moving him to first base. But his performance in left field should raise serious concerns about his ability to handle first base. There’s a belief in baseball that just about anybody can play first base, but there was also a belief that just about anybody could play left field at Fenway Park. I guess not.

Sandoval, meanwhile, appears to be breaking down (at the ripe, old age of 29). Red Sox ownership thought “The Panda” would be a marketing mega-hit, but when you only hit 10 home runs at a power position, you’re not much of a hit at anything. Pablo brought new meaning to the age-old phrase “he couldn’t hit his weight” (he hit .245, he’s listed at 255, only one of those numbers is accurate). Much was made of Sandoval’s willingness, or lack thereof, to stay in playing shape in San Francisco, and those questions have followed him here to Boston (along with a fat $95 million contract). It’s more than fair for Red Sox fans, and management, to question whether Sandoval has the desire to get in shape over the course of the next four years. If he doesn’t, the rapid downward trend in his performance on the field will continue.

There is plenty of hope for the Red Sox, both next year and years down the road. A core of exciting young players should soon be joined by more young players in the pipeline (such as Cuban import Yoan Moncada, Dominican infielder Rafael Devers, and this year’s first round draft pick Andrew Benintendi). The Red Sox will always have deep pockets, and can throw money at their pitching problem, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. The performance of the team down the stretch in 2015 should encourage fans that a contending team might not be too far off in the distant future.

But to truly cure what ails them, Pablo and Hanley need to go.

Matt McCarthy is the sports anchor for the Cape Cod Morning News on 107.5 WFCC, and is also a news anchor and reporter for 99.9 The Q, Ocean 104.7, and Cape Country 104.

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