Red Sox

One of the Countless Reasons to Look Forward to Warmer Weather: Hanley Ramirez’s Return to Boston

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The cars aren’t getting out of the driveways, the planes aren’t heading down the runway, and the concept of a functioning train system in this lousy winter weather has become the punchline to an unfunny joke.

Even if we wanted to drop our shovels and migrate toward Fort Myers at this very moment — and good god, who doesn’t other than maybe thundersnow junkie Jim Cantore? — the only vehicle that might be effective at the start of the journey is a Ski-Doo.

We’re snowed in and all snowed out, and there’s no end in sight. Rumor is that springtime is ahead, and baseball season too, but in terms of seeing either on the horizon, right now visibility is barely better than zero.

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In dealing with this cabin fever, it’s tempting to, as a certain troubadour at Daisy’s once suggested, shoot six holes in the freezer. But if we’re actually remaining sane in this endless winter of our discontent, the best we can do is this:

Attempt to mask our envy of those who have escaped to Fort Myers while thinking about the not-so-far-off days (honest) when baseball arrives and brings the weather with it. Or vice versa. I don’t know if thinking about baseball season makes any of this more tolerable. Probably it does not. But it’s worth the shot.

Much of what has been said and written about this team over the winter has become as repetitive as the snowfall (or weather-related similes for that matter). Do they need an ace? Will the young players emerge? Will last year’s injured regulars return to previous form? Which of the 73 outfielders on the roster will stick?

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So here’s one story line that to me has been underplayed: How much will the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez– or re-acquisition, nine years after the then-phenom was traded to the Marlins essentially for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell — change the Red Sox lineup?

It seemed to me that the Pablo Sandoval signing got more buzz and acclaim, and to a degree that’s understandable. He’s a charismatic, charmingly cartoonish, ballplayer, and he signed with the Red Sox roughly a month after playing a significant role in the Giants’ third World Series title in five years, so there was some recency bias at play there.

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Ramirez, by comparison, averaged just 107 games played over the past two years. And his Dodgers fell short in the postseason despite a high-priced and star-studded roster.

There’s probably some truth in the notion that the Dodgers’ chaotic and underachieving ways affected the perception of Ramirez, though it should be noted that he hit .429 this postseason and owns a career playoff slash-line of .356/.453/.578, which actually beats Sandoval’s .344/.389/.545 despite a smaller sample (Ramirez has played 13 playoff games; Panda has played three times as many).

When it comes to overall production, there’s no contest: Ramirez is a far superior offensive player over the long haul to Sandoval, and that’s not a knock on the latter. He’s a quality ballplayer. But Ramirez brings to Boston — brings back to Boston — something that they desperately need given that in 2014 they scored their fewest runs (634) in a 162-game season since the awkward advent of the Butch Hobson era, 1992 (599).

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He is truly elite offensive player. Skeptical? Maybe this will help. It’s top 10 leaderboard in OPS since the beginning of the 2013 season.

Pretty decent company, no? Whenever you’re ahead of Giancarlo Stanton in a prominent offensive category, that’s a clue that you’re probably doing your job OK.

Obviously there are risks with Ramirez. He hasn’t always been the best teammate, though his desire to play here, his willingness to move off shortstop (see that, Jetes), and his respect for David Ortiz suggest that he is arriving with the right mindset and perhaps a new maturity.

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His most similar player through age 30 is one whom he was once expected to succeed, and it was a plague of injuries that kept Nomar Garciaparra from being the player after that milestone birthday that he was before. But Ramirez was remarkably durable once, playing at least 151 games every year from 2006-09, and he did play 157 in 2012.

It would be foolish to presume his health record would improve after age 30 — few other than Paul Molitor have pulled off that particular feat in baseball history — but the shift to left field should prevent some wear and tear.

Right now, I’m just looking forward to seeing Ramirez play one game. The start of the season — and of the unsung slugger’s second act with this organization — cannot come soon enough.

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