David Ortiz made his 425th plate appearance on Saturday. That assured Red Sox fans that they will see Big Papi in a Red Sox uniform for, at least, one more season. Reaction on social media was almost universally positive. High fives all around. But should Red Sox fans be happy that Ortiz’ name will be written in marker on the lineup card for every game in 2016?
On any other Red Sox team over the last decade, yes, the knowledge that Ortiz would be returning for the following season should have been greeted by general applause. Not this time. This isn’t the same .300-hitting, 40 home run a year guy from a decade ago. But that’s not the point. Even if he hits .250 with 25 home runs which he will do this season, that is respectable production for a DH. The problem is Ortiz does not play the field, can’t play the field, or refuses to play the field. The other problem is he is David Ortiz. You don’t just tell David Ortiz he is not going to be in the lineup or that he will now be a platoon hitter. The legend of David Ortiz has transcended the team. He has become bigger than the team. For a team trying to move forward, this is a bad thing. A very bad thing.
On any other team in the last ten years, the Red Sox never had to worry about sitting Ortiz. They never had a hitter who could put up Ortiz’s kind of offensive production, yet who couldn’t play the field. Until now. In fact, they may have two players playing the field who may be better suited for being designated hitters. At the very least, those two players are playing out of position.
Hanley Ramirez, in particular, should be the Red Sox DH in 2016– if Ramirez is still wearing a Red Sox uniform in 2016, that is. Take heart and emotion out of the equation and it is the right call. Ramirez is a better hitter than Ortiz. Ramirez is younger. Ramirez is signed through 2019. Ramirez cannot play the field. The left field experiment failed. He was moved to the outfield because he can’t play shortstop. He has been horrible in the outfield. Forget all the talk about him improving. Better than really, really, really bad is still really, really bad. Moving him to first base would not be any better.
Are Red Sox fans prepared to go another year watching Ramirez misplay balls in left field? With Ortiz back, they have no choice.
Even Pablo Sandoval projects to be a DH at some point in the next few years. His constant struggles with his weight cannot be ignored for much longer. Sandoval has had difficulties bending over low enough for ground balls. His reaction time has slowed to a crawl. His throws have been erratic. He gets winded running the bases and has trouble scoring from first base on balls hit into the gap.
The next logical position switch, many say, for Sandoval would be a move to first base. How many rotund five-foot-eleven first basemen do you see in the league? A team would like to have their first basemen be tall and rangy. Think Eric Hosmer, Mark Teixeira, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto. Put Sandoval in that group and which one wouldn’t look like the other ones?
Unless the Red Sox can somehow, someway, find another team to take Sandoval or Ramirez (or both) off their hands, this horrible offensive dynamic will not get fixed. With David Ortiz guaranteed to come back next season, the Red Sox will be guaranteed of another wasted season.