Thursday, January 5, 2017

How Will the Red Sox Handle the DH Spot in 2017?

The retirement of future Hall of Famer David Ortiz has left the Boston Red Sox without one of the cornerstones of their lineup. It’s also left the team without a regular designated hitter for the 2017 season after the Winter Meetings failed to produce any deals to bring over any candidates. Right now, Boston has few options other than to go with members of the current roster, a situation that very well could lead to more than one individual filling the spot.

Since only batting is required for this specific slot, there’s a strong chance that Red Sox manager John Farrell chooses to give put a player who can use it as a partial day off from the daily grind. One free agent that was considered was Edwin Encarnacion, who had split time in that role and at first base for American League East rival Toronto since 2011. However, he signed with the team that knocked the Red Sox out of the postseason in 2016, the Cleveland Indians. The likely reason that Boston didn’t aggressively pursue him was because they already have someone who performs those same duties, Hanley Ramirez.

The other reason is that Encarnacion’s cost, which is estimated at slightly more than $20 million per year, would have resulted in luxury tax penalties for the team. Ramirez could hold this slot for most of the season, playing when an opposing right hander takes the mound. The Red Sox hope that he has the same success as during the 2016 campaign, when he smashed 30 home runs and knocked in 111 runs and had better offensive numbers across the board. One key reason was that he played in 147 games, as opposed to his 105 contests from 2015. The position appears to agree with Ramirez, considering the fact that he’s compiled a .331 career batting average in that role in 155 plate appearances. While it’s a small sample, he’s smacked 10 home runs in that capacity, a number that translates into a 40-home run campaign over a full season. Ramirez himself appears to be fully preparing for the role, having begun Winter League play in the Dominican Republic as a designated hitter. In his 12 at bats, he’s only managed to collect two hits, but there’s still plenty of time for Ramirez to get into midseason form.

 Boston also has another option in Pablo Sandoval who, at least temporarily, appears to be committed to watching his always fluctuating weight. Sandoval has never been a great fielding third baseman and Travis Shaw looks to holding things down at that position. He missed virtually all of last year and is still owed $68 million by the Red Sox, a contract that no team would take in a trade. Since he missed virtually all of 2016, Sandoval's 2015 season showed that he was most effective against right handed pitchers. He currently has no role, so this might be his only hope of seeing the field.

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