Giancarlo Stanton

Drellich: Saying goodbye to Hanley Ramirez a gamble for win-now Red Sox

Drellich: Saying goodbye to Hanley Ramirez a gamble for win-now Red Sox

BOSTON — The win-now Red Sox just gambled on the present for certainty in the future. 

For all the reasons to be surprised about the end of Hanley Ramirez’s time in Boston, a tug of war between the future and the present unfolding in the middle of an excellent Red Sox season is most notable.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and his big-market team did not build their reputations on moves that could detract from a contender. They certainly do not advertise such possibilities in season-ticket brochures. 

But moving on from Ramirez, who was surprised to learn Friday morning he was designated for assignment to make room for the return of Dustin Pedroia, could indeed lessen the team’s chances in 2018. The gain: a likely $22 million savings in 2019, based on a vesting option that would have kicked in with a reasonable amount of playing time this season.

On the other hand, the Sox could be just fine without Ramirez, who is 34 and has six home runs, a .254 average, .313 on-base percentage and .395 slugging percentage. The Sox believe that increased playing time for Mitch Moreland (.311, seven homers, 1.001 OPS) will likely show a player that is more capable than Ramirez at present.

But the gamble nonetheless exists and it’s surprising the Sox are taking it as they sit neck-and-neck with the Yankees. A team with both Moreland and Ramirez is more potent, or at least deeper, than one carrying only Moreland. If Ramirez rebounds with another team and goes on a tear the rest of the way, well, the Sox have to hope they’re not lacking for hitting in a race against the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

As a player designated for assignment, Ramirez can be traded, claimed off waivers or released within seven days. But because of that vesting option, he’s very unlikely to be traded or claimed off waivers. No team wants that money looming over them. 

Instead, you can expect Ramirez to be released. At that point, he will likely sign a new contract with another team, and his vesting option will be a thing of the past. His new team will pay him the league minimum, the Sox will pay him the remainder of the $22.75 million salary they owed him (less the money his new team is paying him), and he'll become a free agent after this year.

The Red Sox did not approach Ramirez about voiding that 2019 vesting option to stay in a Sox uniform, a source with knowledge of the situation said. Voiding the option would have been exceptional, if not impossible, because the Players Association guards the value of contracts very closely. (The only way it might have been theoretically viable is if Ramirez were compensated for giving up the option.)

At the end of the day, the Sox made a simple (but complicated) calculation: Ramirez’s 2019 vesting option for $22 million that kicks in with 497 plate appearances this season did not make it worth seeing how much Ramirez could help the 2018 Sox. Ramirez needs 302 more plate appearances. 

Blake Swihart isn't playing, but if the Sox finally decide to use him, they have a player who has years of cost certainty. He was the easiest player to speculate would be on his way out the door when Pedroia returned. But, in the same way getting rid of Ramirez makes sense financially, so too does retaining Swihart.

It’s about roster flexibility, it’s about money, it’s about profit — they're all branches of the same tree. The Red Sox have baseball’s highest payroll at the moment. The Sox, relative to other teams, have not been cheap. Their costs are only going to rise as players receive arbitration raises and hit free agency. Craig Kimbrel is in the final year of his contract this season.

But this move nonetheless centers on money. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising when you consider the Sox avoided adding a slugger in 2017 for one reason only: payroll. They stayed under the luxury tax, passed on free-agent option Edwin Encarnacion heading into the season, and suffered for it.

The Sox are gambling they won't look back on Ramirez's 2018 season with any similar regrets.

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Red Sox-Yankees, at last, has truly revived itself

Red Sox-Yankees, at last, has truly revived itself

BOSTON -- J.D. Martinez hadn’t experienced right field in the Bronx like this. The home run he snuck over the porch on Thursday night, just out of Aaron Judge’s reach in the eighth inning, was not the novelty so much as the jeers, the venom, he heard for two straight nights patrolling the same outfield.

Yankee Stadium was out of its mind during a midweek series in May. Imagine what September will bring. Two of the games were Red Sox losses, and all of them compelling. 

“It’s different. Definitely the energy,” Martinez said after his tie-breaking solo shot in the eighth inning was the difference in a 5-4 Red Sox win that prevented a three-game sweep. “I know for one, being in right field, I’ve been chirped at before out here, but it was a little bit extra this time around. But it was fun, man. It’s why you play the game. Anytime the fans get into it the way they do, even when you’re in New York and they’re saying bad stuff to you, it’s fun. It makes the game exciting and gets you into it. 

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"It’s a long season and there are a lot of games, and when you can get the fans into it and the fans are the way they are for a series, it definitely motivates you, gets you up and makes you feel different.”

Many people have tried to revive the great rivalry, to breathe life into what once was the best baseball had to offer. At last, its revived itself. Not because of a fight, or certainly not primarily because of a fight. Joe Kelly and Tyler Austin provided intrigue last month, but the Fenway brawl was more of an instinctive, territorial skirmish than a reflection of the capital-R rivalry.

We’re back now. Because these are two of the best teams in baseball, and they’re playing each other like it.

“It’s not going to be like this all year. Hopefully," Hanley Ramirez said of a tie atop the American League East. “We’re going to take off. We’re going to keep winning games like we’ve been doing.”

The manager’s mother even has a little admiration for the Yankees, or at least she did at one point.

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Alex Cora has had a rough go of it at Yankee Stadium. Before this series, the last time he was here was during the American League Championship Series, when his Astros were swept in three games in this yard before winning that series back home in Houston.

Add in the first two games of this Sox-Yanks regular season series, and that’s five straight losses for the Sox skipper here.

“It took forever tonight,” Cora said Thursday. “It was like back in ’04, ’05, whenever I played here (for the Red Sox against the Yankees). It was fun for the fans, honestly. I have been saying all along those guys, they turn the page . . . I hate to say it, but my mom liked what happened with them. It’s a fun team. It’s an athletic team. I think the fans are buying into it. 

“The three games felt like the Championship Series last year. It was as loud. They have something good going on there. We also have something good here. It’s going to be a fun rest of the year.”

The Yankees have been comeback kings lately, on a 17-2 run of their own presently that matches the Sox’ own incredible stretch to begin the season. On Thursday, the Yanks scored four times in the seventh to tie at 4. 

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Then up stepped Martinez.

“Their at-bats here after the seventh inning, it’s just amazing,” Cora said.  "What they’ve been doing here, for them it’s fun to watch. For me, it’s like, ‘Oh, God, here we go again.’ I think they’re No. 1 in OPS against relievers. They’re the best offense in baseball after the seventh inning. The guys grinded it out, honestly.”

Craig Kimbrel hinted he wanted revenge. He wanted Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge again after they rocked him on Wednesday in a 9-6 loss. He got them, and he threw a perfect ninth inning for the save.

“I think after last night I enjoyed having the same part of the lineup and getting another chance,” Kimbrel said.

These teams are enjoying each other again, their mutual energy. It's different, as Martinez said, and most of all, it's authentic.

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Red Sox' refusal to trade Mookie Betts for Giancarlo Stanton, or anyone, only looks better

Red Sox' refusal to trade Mookie Betts for Giancarlo Stanton, or anyone, only looks better

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Giancarlo Stanton strikes out in his sleep while Mookie Betts has been the best hitter in baseball. On Wednesday, of all days, there’s absolutely no one in Red Sox camp who’s going to look back with regret on the little bit of history revealed by a former Marlins executive. (And no regret is going to crop up in the future either, barring something very strange.)

David Samson, former president of the Marlins, told CBS Sports that when Betts was a rising prospect in the minors, the Marlins tried to land him by dangling Hanley Ramirez — and even Stanton himself. The Red Sox looked at Betts as untouchable, and for some of the mistakes that were made under former general manager Ben Cherington’s watch, keeping prospects like Betts out of trades may have been his greatest strength.

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The Marlins, surely, aren’t the only ones who tried to pry Betts away from the Sox. Teams inquire about great talents all the time. But Betts is a much more well-rounded player. Stanton has struck out in 38.7 percent of plate appearances this season (29 in 75 trips), compared to just 9 percent for Betts (six in 67 trips).

Betts is hitting .389 with a .493 on-base percentage and .796 slugging percentage. Per one measurement that encompasses a hitter’s offensive production, weighted runs created plus (wRC+), Betts has been the top hitter across the majors. He has five home runs, three of which came Tuesday against the Angels.

One thing Betts is doing more of in 2018: pulling the ball, as noted by FanGraphs.

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