Nine Innings: A Red Sox Homecoming for Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval Too? Sign Me Up!

Playing a special Hanley/Panda edition of nine innings while wondering what comes next — and what comes after that, and then after that …

1. Talk about full circle: Nine years to the day that the Red Sox traded Hanley Ramirez and a handful of other magic beans and prospects (among them Anibal Sanchez) to the Marlins for essentially Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, he’s coming back to the organization where his excellent, enigmatic career began.

The signing of Ramirez was the most surprising move of a seismic morning for the Red Sox organization, which also reportedly includes the signing of Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

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I’m of the belief that seismic also equates to satisfying, and not just because of the obvious homecoming angle — another slugging Ramirez potentially in left field for the Red Sox, reacquiring a player who once was perceived to be Nomar Garciaparra’s successor and now finds Nomah! as his No. 1 career comp through age 30, another chance to reminisce about the stacked 2005 Sea Dogs, that sort of stuff.

He’s an elite hitter in an era when players of such a designation are scarcer and scarcer. For that reason alone, its worth taking on the baggage that comes with Ramirez.

And it’s not as if Ben Cherington and the Red Sox aren’t aware of the total package. They had him first. They knew the strengths and flaws before anyone else did.

Trading him led indirectly to the 2007 World Series title. Nine years later, they’re bringing him back to where it began. They know the red flags. But this is about winning pennants.

2. To anyone who complains that the Red Sox are deviating from a plan: Does Ben Cherington strike you as someone who does something on a whim? This is part of the plan, and in a sense, it should be a fairly obvious part. It’s not about just building the roster with prospects. It’s about developing young talent, self-scouting correctly, using some of the farm system’s excess and redundancy to trade for established players, and signing the occasional free agent to fill a void, fit a need, and perhaps open up the door to trade more prospects in a bigger deal. Hell, it’s what they did with Hanley in the first place. Just because Carl Crawford flopped does not mean that they should never pay big money for a free agent again. It means they needed to do a better job of identifying the right fits.

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3. That said, I will retract that entire previous paragraph if Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner, and NESN’s programming wizards put one suggested word of pressure on Cherington to sign these guys. You’d like to think the Bobby Valentine disaster and the ’13 World Series title bought him some leeway to tell them to buzz off when they make baseball suggestions. But they are coming off a last-place finish, and that nagging voice tells you it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

4. Let me say this without a split-second of hesitation and even the slightest hedge: The Ramirez signing has no effect whatsoever on Xander Bogaerts. He’s the shortstop next year, and for many years to come. Despite his rough summer as a 21-year-old big-leaguer, he remains the Red Sox’ best infield prospect since … well, since Hanley Ramirez. Besides, anyone who thinks Hanley is still a shortstop probably also believes he played for the Marlins last season.

5. Curious to learn how all of this affects Jon Lester, and not just because he’s on the record as someone who wouldn’t share a pepperoni-and-onion at Pat’s Pizza with Ramirez, a frequent teammate during their respective minor-league ascents. The Red Sox can still afford to sign Lester even after spending roughly $200 million on Sandoval and Ramirez. And I don’t think Ramirez’s arrival would prevent Lester from coming back if the Red Sox make him a truly competitive offer. But it may prevent them from upping their offer much beyond the six years and $120 million that has been reported. And it sounds like losing Sandoval has inspired the Giants to pursue Lester aggressively. If given an either/or option with both players, I think we’d be in strong consensus that Lester should be the first choice, right?

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6. Can’t imagine Yoenis Cespedes, entering his walk year and without draft-pick compensation attached, even comes close to appealing enough to the Reds to convince them to part with Johnny Cueto. Cueto put together a 2014 season that would have satisfied Pedro Martinez in his prime, winning 20 games with a 2.25 ERA, leading the National League in innings (243.2), strikeouts (242) and fewest hits per nine innings (6.2). You have to figure any deal for Cueto would also have to include an elite prospect — Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart, in essence, as well as Cespedes. The hunch here is that there’s a better chance of the Red Sox acquiring Mat Latos …

7. … but not until they make a hard run at Cole Hamels. The Red Sox have a ridiculous variety of available talent right now, whether it’s with numerous prospect redundancies, spare parts such as Will Middlebrooks and Daniel Nava, and veterans who don’t have an obvious role. We’re about to find out very soon what Ruben Amaro Jr. is demanding … and what the Red Sox are ready to give up. Is it too much to hope that he believes Allen Craig has a comeback in him?

8. Not that we should care much about what they do at this point, but I’m mildly surprised the Yankees didn’t swoop in and sign Hanley. I wonder if a suspicion that Brian Cashman might pull his patented “Yawn-we’re-not-interested-SURPRISE-WE’RE-INTERESTED-HERE’S-100-MILLION DOLLARS!” move was one reason the Red Sox kept their interest private. Either way, I’m glad he’s here, not there.

9. As for today’s Completely Random Baseball Card:

sandovalpablofinn1124.JPG

This is from 2006, when he was a catcher — wait, he’s David Ross’s replacement! — had a terrible signature, and wasn’t exactly a skinny Panda.

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