Boston Red Sox DFA Struggling First Baseman Hanley Ramirez

ST PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 22: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on May 22, 2018 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 22: Hanley Ramirez #13 of the Boston Red Sox looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on May 22, 2018 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

In a surprising development, the Boston Red Sox have decided to part ways with struggling first baseman Hanley Ramirez.

The Boston Red Sox have designated first baseman Hanley Ramirez for assignment. While this was suggested here yesterday as a way to keep Blake Swihart on the roster, this still comes as a surprise. What designating for assignment (DFA) means is that the Red Sox are choosing to send Hanley to the minors. However, as a veteran with more than three years of service time, he can refuse the assignment. This would lead to his release. He also has no options, so he would have to pass through waivers before being demoted.

It is unlikely that Ramirez will accept the demotion. So the Red Sox now have seven days to work out a trade or he will be released. That would leave the Red Sox on the hook for his full salary in 2018, but it would take his 2019 $22M player option off the table. Should he be released he can sign with another team which would owe him a prorated MLB minimum for his services. The Red Sox would still owe the rest of his contract in that scenario. However the next week or so plays out, this is a shocking development. So, how did we get here?

It was the right decision.

The Red Sox have a superior first baseman on the roster already. His name is Mitch Moreland and he’s currently sporting a 166 wRC+. Hanley Ramirez seems to have settled in as a slightly below league average hitter. He has a 90 this year and had a 93 last season. For a player who doesn’t provide above average defense, that’s a tough roster spot to justify. Handing the keys over to Mitch Moreland, even though some regression is likely, is the best thing a team vying for a third straight division title can do. With the roster crunch created by activating Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list, simply moving Ramirez to the bench was apparently not an option.

That might be because the team isn’t ready to let go of Blake Swihart. Swihart was the top catching prospect in the game at one point. But injuries and a lack of player options has conspired to stunt his development. It may come out later in the season that the Red Sox tried to trade Swihart before DFAing Ramirez and could not find a suitable offer. If this is the case, cutting bait with Hanley to free up at bats at first base for Swihart would make some sense. It gives the team a chance to see what they actually have in Swihart to either find a permanent role for him in Boston or to build up some trade value.

There are some ancillary benefits.

More from Call to the Pen

There is more to gain than freeing up playing time for Blake Swihart and avoiding the 2019 player option. The team has opened the door for either

Sam Travis


Josh Ockimey

. Both are trying to establish themselves as the first baseman of the future. And without Hanley Ramirez on the roster, Swihart will be given a chance to show that he can hit. If he does not, one of Travis or Ockimey will likely get a call up later in the year.

Sam Travis is scuffling in AAA Pawtucket with a 76 wRC+, but has had some injuries impact his year. Josh Ockimey, on the other hand, is sitting on a 134 wRC+ with 5 HR for AA Portland. Neither of the prospects is particularly good with the glove, but both should be capable of leage average play. If either can establish a power stroke, that’s a profile that can play at the major league level. Ockimey has more raw power but is still working on getting to it in games. If we had to bet, our money would be on him over Sam Travis at this point.

Sending a message to the rest of the roster.

This can also be seen as firing a warning shot at Jackie Bradley, the current starter in center field. His defense has kept him in the lineup, but that 46 wRC+ just isn’t going to cut it. He just finished a year in which he was 10% worse than league average. So it was important for JBJ to show he could hit again this year. At some point, if he does not right the ship, the Red Sox may be forced to go in another direction.

Next: Red Sox Mount Rushmore

Jackie Bradley Jr. is being paid $6.1M this season as a second year arbitration player. He stands to make another nine or ten figure salary in 2019 in his final arbitration year. But only if he turns it around. If he doesn’t, the team could decide not to tender him a contract rendering him a free agent. The chances of him finishing the season off the roster are probably low, but he could certainly lose his starting job soon. And we thought Hanley being DFA’d was unlikely yesterday, so perhaps that isn’t off the table here either. If the team is willing to eat the rest of Hanley’s contract, no one is above losing their job for not performing.