What Red Sox reporters are saying about the decision to part ways with Hanley Ramirez

The unexpected move Friday has left many looking for an explanation.

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2017, file photo, Boston Red Sox designated hitter Hanley Ramirez takes off his batting helmet after grounding out with bases loaded during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, at Fenway Park in Boston. The Red Sox have designated Hanley Ramirez for assignment to make room for Dustin Pedroia on the 25-man roster as he returns from the disabled list. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, FIle)
Hanley Ramirez takes off his batting helmet after grounding out during a game last September. –Charles Krupa / AP

Looking for an explanation for why the Red Sox are parting ways with Hanley Ramirez? A lot of people are.

The team’s shocking decision Friday to designate Ramirez for assignment caught many off guard. The designation means the Red Sox have seven days to trade or release the 34-year-old first baseman and designated hitter, marking the closing of his four-season stay with Boston that has seen its share of ups and downs.

The move, while perhaps painful, strictly comes down to salary and roster management, according to those who cover the Red Sox.

The team simultaneously announced Friday that they were activating Dustin Pedroia from the disabled list, so they needed to create a space on the roster for the second baseman. As The Boston Globe Alex Speier explained, the need to make space aggravated the fact that Ramirez, due to a particular clause in his contract, was on pace to be owed $22 million by the Sox next season.

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Speier, who broke the news Friday, explained the combination of factors were setting up for a “potentially awkward situation.” Even though Ramirez began the season searing hot — hitting .330/.400/.474 with three homers through April — his production had significantly dropped off. His batting average so far in May is just .163, and he is currently in the midst of an 0-for-20, five-game hitless streak.

According to Speier, the Sox front office wasn’t willing to bet that those numbers would significantly rebound.

With a total of 497 plate appearances this year, Ramirez would have been guaranteed another $22 million next season. He’d already accumulated 195, putting him on pace to blow past the required number to secure his salary for next season.

The Sox were prepared to let Ramirez stay in the lineup and let the option vest if his production warranted it. But after he went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts Thursday, he is now hitting .254/.313/.395 for the season, with a .708 OPS that ranks 30th among 44 first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances.

Still, did it have to be Ramirez? What if he’s just going through a slump? Why not someone else? NESN’s Tom Caron says it’s “pretty simple.” The combination of Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, and the newly signed J.D. Martinez was creating a glut of players on the roster who played first base or designated hitter. And more often that not, Moreland was the one being relegated to the bench, despite batting .311/.390/.612 this season and providing better defense.

Moreland is also owed $6.5 million a year for 2018 and 2019, making him three times less expensive than Ramirez.

And even though the team could have decided to simply bench Ramirez and let go of a less-used player like Blake Swihart, Caron said that depriving Ramirez of at-bats could have become a distraction if it seemed like the Red Sox were trying to avoid paying that vesting option.

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“Someone had to go for Pedroia’s return,” Caron tweeted. “Hanley sitting on the bench could’ve become a distraction – especially if he felt it was to keep the 2019 option from kicking in.”

Several reporters noted that it was curious that Red Sox manager Alex Cora was still playing Ramirez (who was third on the team in starts) so much, despite the obvious on- and off-field reasons to bench him. The Boston Herald‘s Jason Mastrodonato questioned whether it was a signal of some disagreement between Cora and Red Sox management.

…at some point, the Sox were going to have to cut back on his playing time. Given the slump he’s in, and the way Mitch Moreland has been playing (.311 average, 1.001 OPS), it’s strange that change in playing time hasn’t happened yet.

It’s even more strange the Sox have been hitting him at the top of the order right up until Thursday, when he batted second for them, which could signal a disconnect between front office and field level coaching staff.

Mastrodonato wasn’t the only one to raise that point. The Athletic’s Matthew Kory wondered whether the playing time Cora gave Ramirez precipitated the decision by the front office to cut him loose.

NBC Sports Boston’s Evan Drellich reported Friday that it was unlikely an arrangement to allow the Red Sox to keep Ramirez and avoid paying the $22 million option next year could have been reached.

So what’s next for Hanley? As mentioned above, the Red Sox must either trade or release him within the upcoming week. And the latter seems much more likely than the former. That’s because any team that acquires Ramirez in a trade would have to take on that same $22 million vesting option in 2019.

“The vesting option is why it’s almost impossible to imagine a team trading for Ramirez before his release, even if Sox subsidized this year’s salary,” Speier tweeted. “No one wants to be on the hook for vesting option.”

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However, if a team scoops Ramirez up on the free agent market, they would be working with a clean slate.

According to Drellich, it’s also unlikely that the Red Sox could simply re-sign Ramirez after releasing him.

Ramirez has a long history with the Red Sox franchise. But alas, it looks like this could be goodbye.

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