This is Hanley Ramirez' moment. What he chooses to do with it will define his Red Sox career.
Last Friday, the Boston Red Sox cut ties with Pablo Sandoval. The overpaid third baseman -- who took his money and unofficially quit baseball -- was officially designated for assignment in the middle of his third season with the organization.
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Sandoval signed his five-year, $95 million deal with the Red Sox almost at the exact same time that Ramirez signed his four-year, $88 million contract. Because of that, the two will forever be linked. But Ramirez now has a chance to change how we view their connection.
The 53-win Red Sox entered Wednesday night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays as the first-place team in the AL East, just two games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays and three-and-a-half games ahead of the third-place New York Yankees. That 53rd win came as a result of Ramirez' walk-off solo home run in the 15th inning on Tuesday night. It was his 15th home run and just his 37th RBI of the season.
Ramirez finished last season with 30 home runs and 111 RBI, with a batting average of .286 as the Red Sox first baseman. That type of production was a promising sign that Ramirez would be a nice fit as the team's new designated hitter this season, following David Ortiz' retirement.
But 2017 hasn't necessarily been a positive one for Ramirez, who's hitting .257 with an OPS of .792. He blames it on banged-up shoulders. Yet, the human eye can see an inconsistent interest-level. Whatever the reason, there's no denying that everyone in Boston is asking Ramirez to be better than he has been through 95 games this season.
With the non-waiver trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Red Sox will certainly be kicking the tires on deals that would land them a third baseman who can hit, preferably, for power. The reason? Sandoval was a colossal bust. The other reason? Ramirez hasn't been the big-swinging slugger he's currently paid to be, while holding down Ortiz' old DH spot.
But perhaps Tuesday night's walk-off home run was a sign of things to come for the rest of the season. Last year, Ramirez hit 22 of his 30 home runs in the second half. If he can heat up the same way this year, then he can be the power-hitter the team was looking to acquire for the stretch run.
In the process, he can also cleanse himself of the negative stereotype that comes with being connected to Sandoval. Sure, both players were signed at the same time, but Ramirez can make it a point to prove that only one of the two kept fighting to help the Red Sox win back-to-back division titles, and possibly more.
The organization had seen enough of the Panda, so president of baseball operations ave Dombrowski decided to cut ties with him. As long as Ramirez underachieves, he'll continue to be linked to Sandoval as the guy who came to the Red Sox with him and also didn't live up to the paycheck.
They arrived in Boston together. Now, only one has an opportunity to silence the critics.
But that'll be up to Ramirez.
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