The Red Sox most likely tried to deal one or both of their corner infielders, to no avail. Now with both recommitted to shaping their bodies(as best they can), Boston is hoping for them to play like they are capable. For both players, 2016 represents a chance to let their pride show through and both could be in line for a big year.
When Ben Cherington made a splash signing two players with questionable defense and work ethic, it was speculated that both could at minimum contribute offensively. Neither player hit well enough to have value, even if they played average defense, which they did not. Hanley was the worst statistical leftfielder in all of baseball, Sandoval was the same at third. The season was a trainwreck for both veterans, which is putting it lightly. This offseason has changed the outlook for both, with workout photos and more importantly, different roles.
For Hanley, a player who thrived on gap to gap hitting and high averages and on base skills, everything was handled wrong in 2015. Ramirez gained 25 pounds and tried to become a power hitter with pull tendencies. The first month of the year, he crushed ten homers and thrived in the role until an injury took place when he collided with the wall in left. He never was able to hit a stride, let alone a breaking ball the rest of the year as the shoulder continued to plague him forcing the Sox to shut him down early.
When the Red Sox brought in Dave Dombrowski, the first topic of discussion revolved around where Hanley would play going forward. With firstbase being the logical fit for a former infielder with limited range. Learning a new position in any sport can be difficult, but for Ramirez, the outfield was like putting a square peg in a round hole. The move to first suits his attributes much more naturally and should allow him to focus soley on his conditioning and batting. Their will be growing pains to be certain, but Hanley should already have a decent idea how to field a groundball so it is more about positioning.
The same can not be said for Pablo Sandoval who struggled with the transition to the American League and a new franchise. Sandoval was bad, really bad, perhaps due to trying to live up to the contract and “Three Amigos” mantra that was placed on him when they arrived. A slow start, followed by an injury cause Sandoval to give up switch hitting which he could return to this season. While Sandoval is in better shape than when he arrived, no one should expect him to win any fitness awards anytime soon. He will always be Kung Fu Panda, a name you do not get by being slender.
This year, the Red Sox have a Gold Glove caliber defense up the middle and they only need Pablo to make the routine plays he was accustomed to in San Francisco. Sandoval lacked range in the N.L. as well, but was above average at third by making the plays he should. At the plate could be his biggest struggle if he returns to switch hitting. Timing is everything for major league hitters and it was clear that Sandoval struggled with it before giving up switch hitting. If he can return to the type of player he was with the Giants, the Red Sox could have one of the best one through six hitters in all of baseball.
The emergence of Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart should allow for Sandoval and Ramirez go back to playing their game. Both players were thrust into an offense that seemingly lacked fire power causing both players to go outside their normal routines. This year they just have to return to being very talented hitters and not saviors for this offense to roll. The Red Sox finished 2015 third in runs scored without contributions from Ramirez or Sandoval. This year if the two go back to their regular levels, the offense could be scary for opposing pitchers.
Posted by Sean Brannen, Senior Writer for OTWBB