MLB

Red Sox Got Sandoval and Ramirez, But Did They Get Better?

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It’s a great day for nicknames in Boston. The Red Sox got HanRam and the Panda in two big free-agent signings, making their imposing offense even stronger than before. Depending on what position Hanley Ramirez (4 years, $88 million) will play, the club either has three third basemen or three left-fielders with the additions, so questions remain for a club that is several starting pitchers away from contention. Here is what Pablo Sandoval (5 years, $95 million) and Ramirez add, and where the Red Sox could go from here.

Stocking offense first

The Red Sox traded four starting pitchers (two above average, one decent, one bad) late in the 2014 season, bringing back players like Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig along with other prospects in return. In September, the club signed Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, which further solidified the lineup. With the addition of Pablo Sandoval, club officials are clearly conceding the end of the Will Middlebrooks experiment. On the other hand, few believe Hanley Ramirez (a shortstop his entire career) will replace Xander Bogaerts at short.

That leaves Hanley either headed for left field or a yet-to-be-created position. (Many hypothesized Ramirez would become a third baseman, but Panda’s signing rules that out.) Cespedes is even more expendable in this scenario, which includes outfielders Shane Victorino, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. Packaging Cespedes and other prospects gained in the 2014 trades could potentially give the Red Sox a shot at Cole Hamels or other pitchers available on the wires.

ESPN’s David Schoenfield is skeptical that Cespedes (or even Mike Napoli, suddenly rumored on the trade market) could land a big fish like Hamels. Another concern would be teams overcharging the big-spending Red Sox when they know they’re desperate for starting pitching.

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Free agent pitchers still available 

With Boston overpaying for both Sandoval and Ramirez, teams may look to extract an overweight return for any trade involving a starting pitcher. This reality may put the Red Sox back on the trail of coveted free agent aces Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. Still two starters away from a quality team, the addition of both pitchers would put the Red Sox over the luxury tax threshold, but careful spending does not appear to be a priority this offseason for the front office and ownership. In fact, the bloated contracts the team avoided for the past few years are making a comeback in Boston.

Something else to consider is the addition of Ramirez, who is considered a sum negative in terms of clubhouse presence. Here is how one Dodgers teammate reacted when he learned of Hanley’s departure.

The bigger concern about Hanley is his ongoing injury problems. He appeared in 128 games in 2014 (.283, 71 RBIs) after playing just 86 games in 2012. His defense at short has been below average, so critics of the trade wonder whether he’ll take to a new position as easily as proponents of the trade assume.

Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16 HR in 2014) also is an unusual candidate for a contract worth $19 million per year. Not since the days of overspending on Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have the Red Sox gambled on such large contracts. Of course, we know how that story ended — in a downward spiral to last place that included lots of fried chicken and beer as well as the firing of Terry Francona. These two contracts will be tough to move over the coming years.

The Red Sox improved their offense with two of the top free agent bats on the market. Now it’s time to get to the team’s most pressing rotation needs on the trade market to field a competitive squad in 2015.