CHICAGO — The Red Sox infield is a jumble of contingencies. A roster mess, ultimately, one they’re managing to make work for now — because everyone knew Deven Marrero would pop two homers in a game.
Hanley Ramirez needs to hit and play some first base. Pablo Sandoval needs to look competent as a platoon player. Life gets a lot simpler at that point.
Ramirez has done some early work at first base in Chicago, and it sounds like the Red Sox aren't going to let the matter go by the wayside.
"Part of what we’re trying to do is maintain the activity, not let him just be so focused on the DH slot," manager John Farrell said. "That’s as much keeping the defensive side of it involved as it is part of kind of the conditioning as well. Just to keep his legs active, keep his body moving, making sure that we do whatever’s possible to put him in a position to have a strong base from which to hit from."
But no one has any clue what this group will look like two weeks or a month from now. What the dynamic amounts to is uncertainty for the trade deadline as well as uncertainty for some players’ futures with the Sox — at least in 2017.
Let’s start with Dustin Pedroia. We’ll assume he’s back in roughly 10 days. (Someone has to go back to the minors at that point.)
Third base is looked at, rightfully, as a platoon with Sandoval back in the fold.
“I’m not going to say he won’t ever get a right-handed at-bat,” Farrell said Wednesday, “but I think Pablo would acknowledge the stronger side of the plate.”
So Sandoval plays against righty pitchers, someone else plays against lefty pitchers. If Marrero keeps hitting, he should keep getting a look.
But, if we’re being realistic, Josh Rutledge is ultimately a better hitter than Marrero. Rutledge also has a chance to get himself some leash if he can hit well at second base while Pedroia is down.
Rutledge struggled at third base defensively before Marrero took over. But, is that reason to give up on seeing Rutledge at the hot corner there for the rest of the season? Who do the Sox pair up with Sandoval long term?
Marrero has options, while Rutledge is a Rule 5 guy.
We’re working on an assumption here, though, that Sandoval proves useful as a platoon player. That he won’t wind up back on the disabled list for a real injury, or for a phantom diagnosis that just puts him out of sight and out of mind. (Could the Sox cut him? Sure, but that seems like a step beyond what would be necessary.)
“It's such a hard look for me for Pablo,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “In spring training, we felt absolutely great about the situation. Early in the season, he ended up playing so-so, I guess is the way to describe it. There were some encouraging signs and then there were other some other signs that weren't as positive as during spring training . . . Now he's got to go out and do it for us.”
If Sandoval fails, it’s a safe bet the Sox call up Rafael Devers at some point later this summer. But what they wind up having in him is another open question.
Then you look over at the other corner infield spot, and there’s three people where there was expected to be a need for only two.
Mitch Moreland, Sam Travis and Ramirez have all played first base in the majors. One of them, Ramirez, isn’t available for that job right now, though, and that’s principally the reason Travis is on the roster.
“I’m never going to close the door on [Ramirez at first base]. That’ll be something we’ll continue to work with Hanley on,” Farrell said. “Hopefully that will present itself with a more regular option, because that’s the way we put the roster together coming into spring training and the season.”
Having Travis around isn’t a bad thing. He’s been a help.
“You hear some of the comments on the field where it’s like, wow, this kid only has 10 plate appearances in the big leagues and it doesn’t look that way,” Farrell said. “There’s a high level of comfort for him in the box.”
Moreland plays against righties, and Travis against lefties. Simple. But when Pedroia comes back, Travis is as good a candidate as anyone to be sent out. You can’t carry 18 infielders.
Then there’s the reality that Ramirez has a slugging percentage of .408, down 97 points from his 2016 mark. He’s getting on base well, drawing walks, but the pop hasn’t come yet. With bad shoulders, warmer weather might be a need.
Nonetheless, Ramirez has been underwhelming compared to what the Sox need.
“There have been stretches where he’s been really good,” Farrell said. “Like every hitter, he’s hit into some situations where he’s squaring balls up and not getting anything for it. And then there have been some times where on occasion he might get a little big with his swing.
“Here's the thing, Hanley has power. We feel like when he’s driving the ball with some regularity into right-center field, that’s when I think he’s at his best. He’s got better plate coverage. I think there’s, at times, a little bit of tendency to maybe look to pull the ball on occasion. So we just have to get him back in sync. He’s been such a productive hitter. Last year a really strong year for him.”
There’s also a guy named Brock Holt, who’s still trying to come back from vertigo, and who the heck knows how he’d fit in if he’s able to?