Two years ago, the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez to a four-year, $88 million dollar contract, with a fifth-year vesting option worth an additional $22 million. In case you are terrible at math like me, that meant the Red Sox allocated $110 million to Hanley Ramirez to play left field, a position he had never manned before.
In left, Hanley Ramirez was a disaster. The agony finally ended in May, when Ramirez crashed into the left field wall against the Tampa Bay Rays and needed to be taken out of the game. It was announced that Ramirez had a shoulder sprain, which nagged him for the rest of the year. Ramirez would end the season with a .249 batting average and 19 home runs in 401 at-bats, while also being rated as the worst defensive left fielder in the American League. Hanley has always been dubbed as a player that does not want to work hard, but would rather play baseball on occasion, while certainly cashing his check every two weeks. Unfortunately, it showed in 2015.
This Spring, it was announced that Ramirez would be transitioning to first base, another position that he had never played before. Ramirez reported to camp early, spent extra time trying to learn the position, and played hard throughout Spring Training. Nonetheless, local media outlets were dead-set on Han-Ram's demise, and rightfully so. Ramirez never gave fans, the Red Sox, or anyone else a reason to believe in him.
Fortunately, the 2016 season has changed all of that, at least for me. At the plate, there has never been a question about Hanley's ability. In 2006, Han-Ram was able to win Rookie of the Year with a .292 batting average, 17 home runs and 59 RBIs while playing shortstop with the then-Florida Marlins. After being selected to his first All-Star Game in 2008, Ramirez finished second in the MVP voting and won the National League batting title with a .343 average the following year.
This season, Ramirez has made an effort to use all areas of the ballpark in hopes of driving the ball, instead of trying to launch home runs like he was trying to do last season. In 133 games, Ramirez has batted .284 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. None of his home runs were bigger than last night, when he launched a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs to seal a 7-5 walk-off victory against Dellin Betances and the New York Yankees.
However, Ramirez' biggest question mark, especially this season, was his defense. Notice how I used "was" there? That's right, Ramirez has been a defensive rock at first base, wielding a .996 fielding percentage (four errors) in 120 games at first base.
The light at the end of the tunnel for Red Sox fans, especially last season, was that the Red Sox would be able to eventually move Hanley Ramirez to designated hitter once it was made apparent that David Ortiz would retire at the end of the 2016 season. However, now, the Red Sox have the luxury of keeping Ramirez at first base if they want to go out onto the free agent market and sign a Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion-type of player.
Like Rick Porcello, maybe all Hanley needed was a year to adjust to a different market and a new league? Or maybe he was just being lazy and got a wake-up call last season. Regardless, I am glad to have Han-Ram aboard for a crazy end to the 2016 season and hopefully a dead playoff run.