I don’t enjoy watching Spring Training baseball. The rosters are too deep. The results are meaningless. Quite frankly, it’s a waste of my time.
When Opening Day arrives, I’m all in. The MLB regular season is long, too long, 162 games long. But when rosters are cut down and it starts to count in the standings, that’s when it grabs my full attention.
So, from my perspective, Spring Training is all about visualization. It’s about predicting a lineup, putting the rotation together, imagining how it will all look once March 29 arrives, which is the earliest Opening Day in the history of Major League Baseball.
All of it, for any team, comes with questions. Especially with the 2018 Boston Red Sox.
And it’s funny. As I was putting together my projected Red Sox lineup the other day, I kept coming back to one guy: Hanley Ramirez, who I’ll get to in just a moment, because it all really comes back to him.
A few weeks ago, I told you all about how the J.D. Martinez signing felt weird to me. The timing was strange. The delayed team-announcement after the initial report of the signing was a little odd. Something just seemed off. And because of that, I wasn’t very fired up about the move.
Martinez hit 45 homes runs last season. Even if he hits 30 home runs this year, it will be an offensive improvement for the Red Sox.
It should go without saying, of course, that Martinez will need to play every day. That, as you know, has created an interesting situation for first-year manager Alex Cora, who has already said Martinez and Ramirez will hit third and fourth in the lineup, in either order. The tricky part, for Cora, is also knowing that Ramirez needs to play every day as well.
Martinez is an outfielder. But the Red Sox’ outfield is already set, for the now and for the future, with Andrew Benintendi in left field, Jackie Bradley in center field, and Mookie Betts in right field.
Under the “it’s a good problem to have” mindset, one would easily just keep the kids in the outfield, slide Martinez into the DH spot, and move Ramirez back to first base, where he played in 2016 and hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2008, while using Mitch Moreland off the bench.
Done, and done. Martinez is your everyday DH. Ramirez is your everyday first baseman. And you don’t have to mess with the playing time of Benintendi or Bradley Jr.
If only it were that easy.
Which brings me back to Ramirez. Do we all really think that moving Ramirez back to first base for an entire season is going to be as simple as putting the “1B” next to his name on the lineup card? Knowing what we know about Ramirez, I find it hard to believe this move is going to come without some type of conflict during a 162-game season.
Three days before the initial reports that the Red Sox had signed Martinez, Ramirez told the media at Fort Myers that he’s healthy, happy, on the TB12 Method, and willing to play as many games at first base as Cora wants him to.
Sounds great. But that was Feb. 16. Get back to me in June.
Ramirez wants to be a DH, which I don’t blame him for. We saw that last year. And when the Red Sox re-signed Moreland earlier this winter, it looked as though Ramirez was once again set to be the DH for the second straight season without David Ortiz.
There is some incentive for Ramirez to accept any role he’s given, as long as he gets enough plate appearances to see his $22 million 2019 vesting option kick in. All he needs is 497 plate appearances for that to happen. As a point of reference, Ramirez has finished with at least 500 plate appearances in three of the last four seasons. Under an average of four plate appearances per game, it would only take Ramirez 125 games to reach 497.
It’s likely something Ramirez will achieve this season, but at the same time, keeps him motivated to field any position that Cora tells him to.
Until, you know, Ramirez decides he would rather pick up those plate appearances as a DH.
Laugh all you want about it now. But it won’t be something that anyone finds funny in the middle of the season.
Listen to “The Danny Picard Show” at dannypicard.com. Follow him on Twitter @DannyPicard.