It’s no secret that Hanley Ramirez has been a disastrous successor to David Ortiz. After all, successor implies one will succeed. The big man advised him, mentored him, and groomed him to take over as DH, and well, 2017 Hanley Ramirez was an unmitigated disaster. He even said it himself, admitting that he was “terrible” last season. Between injuries and an attitude of indifference, it’s no wonder the Red Sox went out and gave JD Martinez $110 million dollars and Hanley’s job.
But like many athletes filled with hope and dreaming of a brighter future during the pre-season, Hanley Ramirez is hoping to reinvent himself in 2018. At the ripe old age of 34 (ironic, we know), Ramirez hopes to finally emulate his predecessor and have a late-in-career resurgence. Think a 37-year-old Ortiz in 2013, though it’s almost guaranteed we won’t see that kind of bat power from Hanley or any Red Sox slugger anytime soon.
Hanley will spend most of this season playing first, since Martinez is the new primary DH. But Mitch Moreland had a strong season, both offensively and defensively, and the Sox re-signed him to a two-year contract as well, which means the two will vie for playing time.
Ramirez is recovered from his October shoulder surgery, treatment for the injury that plagued him sporadically for most of last season. You can blame that ailment for his measly 62 RBIs and career-low .242 batting average, though he did still manage to drive in 23 home runs, one shy of Mookie Betts’ leading 24. But still, not numbers you want to see from a man whose main job is to hit the ball hard and high over the big green wall. Or hit it at all. Or just drive in more runs than he left players stranded on base. It was a cliff-like drop statistically for the 2009 National League batting champion, who batted .286 with 30 homers and 111 runs the season before. His OPS plummeted, down to .750 from .866.
Unfortunately for the Sox, Hanley is player who has a hard time staying focused and motivated. It’s clear from seasons past; when he wants to hit the ball, he can damn well hit it. He was NL Rookie of the Year, an All-Star three years in a row from 2008-2010, and won back-to-back Silver Slugger Awards in 2008 and 2009. In his first game back with the Red Sox on Opening Day 2015, he hit a home run and a grand slam hit so hard he broke his bat; the Red Sox won 8-0, five of the runs thanks to Hanley. By the end of that April, he’d hit 10 home runs, only the second Red Sock ever to accomplish that feat. David Ortiz was the first.
And against the Astros in last season’s ALDS, Hanley went 8-14 with 3 RBIs and a .571 average. But for whatever reason – like, he forgets that it’s his job – Hanley often seems not to care about what he’s supposed to be doing out there, and that won’t fly for the Red Sox, who will have to fight the Yankees a lot harder than last year if they want to make the postseason; as it was, they barely captured the division last season.
It seems as though for the moment, Hanley is motivated and feeling good. He showed up to Spring Training recovered from his shoulder surgery and says he feels “so much looser,” and his goal is to “keep working on it, train, to maintain and stay stronger.” having lost fifteen pounds. He accredits this to fellow Boston athlete Tom Brady and his TB12 Method, which pushes clean proteins, alkalizing produce, and lots of water. He’s talking a big game down in Florida saying he feels like he can play 150 games, and last week telling Boston Globe reporter Pete Abraham, “I’m going 30/30. Write that down.”
In Boston’s 10-5 loss to their ALDS opponent Houston Astros, Hanley hit his first home run, a blast over the center field fence. He’s even excited about his somewhat-replacement JD Martinez, saying the Red Sox are “going to step on everybody’s neck” now that he’s here, which is a weird and unpleasant image, though it’s nice to see him fired up.
This is the final year of Hanley’s 4-year, $88 million contract, but if he has 497 plate appearances this season, he’ll reach the 1,050 plate appearances requirement stipulated in his contract (he had 553 last season.) He could then vest his 2019 option for an additional $22 million and a fifth season in Boston. Ramirez says he’s focused on the game, not his contract, and wants Boston to have a better season than last. Let’s hope he helps make that a reality.
Only 29 days ’til Fenway…