by Jason Howard Kelly
After pulling off a monumental trade yesterday for Chris Sale the Red Sox have given their fans a lot to be excited about heading into the 2017 season. The Red Sox now have one of the most formidable pitching rotations in all of baseball. The retirement of future hall-of-famer David Ortiz is sure to be a bit of a blow to an already potent offense. However, the emergence of Boston’s young stars such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi can collectively fill the massive hole left by Big Papi’s absence. The Red Sox also had better-than-expected production from veteran players like Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez last season.
The Red Sox coupled the signing of Chris Sale with two other moves. They traded Travis Shaw and two prospects to Milwaukee for relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg. They also signed former Texas Rangers DH/First Baseman Mitch Moreland. Odd as it may seem it is the Mitch Moreland signing that has me worried the most.
First of all, I’m not very high on Mitch Moreland as a player. Moreland is a left-handed hitting first baseman with a little bit of power, but that’s about it. He did hit 22 homeruns last season, but he also only hit .233 and struck out a career-high 118 times. Rather unfortunately, the Red Sox essentially traded away the better version of Mitch Moreland when they dealt Travis Shaw to Milwaukee. Shaw is younger, far superior defensively, and still has potential to improve in other areas such as plate discipline and approach. That in and of itself makes the move questionable, but it also raises an interesting question: what position will Mitch Moreland play? He is officially listed as a DH/first baseman… Okay, so which one will he be for the Red Sox?
If the Red Sox intend to use Moreland primarily at first base and move Hanley to the DH spot then I’ll go ahead and say it right now — we might have a problem.
Remember 2015? Remember when Hanley was asked to play left field? I wouldn’t blame you for trying to block it out of your mind because that’s how much of a debacle it was. He had his worst offensive season in the first half of 2015, then spent the rest of the year injured because he crashed into too many walls out there in left field. The 2015 season left many Red Sox fans thinking that the Hanley Ramirez signing was a huge mistake, a la Carl Crawford in 2011.
When Hanley was made the starting first baseman in 2016 it was a move that was met with a lot of skepticism and doubts. However, all he did in 2016 was dispel those doubts by having one of his best offensive seasons and proving to be a competent first baseman in the field. Hanley only made 4 errors at first base last season. Overall that’s pretty solid for a guy who looked like a bumbling buffoon the year before out in left field. More importantly than the stats, however, was the fact that he was clearly having fun and was more mentally engaged last season. Hanley has always had an eccentric personality on and off the field, to say the very least. Keeping that personality in check and not letting it negatively impact his performance on the field is crucial to the success of the Red Sox offense.
That is why the potential of Hanley becoming the full-time DH for the Red Sox gives me pause. This would essentially mean that he would be sitting on the bench for more than half of the game. This could result in Hanley losing his focus and going back to his aloof, flippant attitude that he had in 2015. Sure, the potential upside is that it allows him to put all of is focus and energy into hitting, which he’s already pretty good at. The potential downside is that his mind wanders while he’s sitting on the bench in between innings and he loses focus.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that moving to DH only motivates Hanley even more to just go up there and absolutely rake at the plate. That being said, I will not be the least bit surprised if he regresses back to his old ways, and it’s something that Red Sox fans should be prepared for. For now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope the Hanley from 2015 doesn’t rear its ugly head again.