Bradford: Hanley Ramirez is really important to these Red Sox, and he knows it

Rob Bradford
December 01, 2017 - 5:54 pm

USA Today Sports

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic -- When it comes to the Red Sox situation this offseason, so much depends on the existence of Hanley Ramirez.

Alex Cora knows it, which is one or the reasons Ramirez said his new manager has been texting him almost every day. Dave Dombrowski fully understands the dynamic, admittedly heading into the free agent and trade markets with the confidence Ramirez can play first base.

And you know who else knows it? Hanley Ramirez.

"Exactly," the 33-year-old said when asked if he understood he was one of the most vital elements of this Red Sox team heading into 2018.

So, with that out of the way, the next question has to be regarding Ramirez's ability to actually play first base, a position he manned just 18 times in 2017 due to shoulder issues. Dombrowski stated at the GM meetings that the doctors are convinced that, after recent surgery on the player's left shoulder, Ramirez can return to full-time duty in the field.

Hanley, for one, clearly has no doubts.

"You know I'm going to be ready to play first," he told "[Expletive] yeah."

"I've got no pain, no nothing. I'm ready to go," he added. "I went to [Dr. James] Andrews and he decided to do [the surgery]. Just clean it a little bit. I can feel the difference right away. Since I left the surgery room -- it wasn't anything major -- I felt a difference right away."

Then there is the matter of producing in the middle of the Red Sox' batting order. The Red Sox need more from Ramirez. They know that. He knows that. They are all banking on a healthier shoulder to help with that. But the righty hitter -- who finished batting .242 with 23 homers and a .750 OPS last season -- is confident that an altered offseason approach is going to be the biggest difference-maker.

"I don't like to have excuses. So I played through it," said Ramirez of his shoulder issues. "But I knew I could do better than I was doing. It's just part of the game. I played through it the whole year and we would take care of it after the season.

"It's not what I say, it's what I feel. I feel better. Now I can have my swing. The Hanley Ramirez swing that I already had when I was with the Marlins. That's what I feel."

Why he feels that way is also because of a change in routine that is based on throwing out some old exercise equipment, and replacing it with Tom Brady-endorsed bands and the like.

"I'm not lifting heavy anymore," he said. "Last year, I used to look bigger. I used to crush the weights. Now, I feel much stronger inside. If you go to my house right now you're going to see a bunch of bands and core stuff. That's what I've been doing. Before it was bench presses. And I feel the difference. My body has more balance now. Every part of your body works with your core. Lower body works with your core. Upper body works with your core. Your shoulders. Everything.

"I know it's going to pay off. I feel great inside. All of those little muscles, they're stronger."

The Red Sox undoubtedly are going to get someone to complement Ramirez at either first base or designated hitter. But they desperately need this new version of Hanley to work. 

After he turned in 553 plate appearances this past season, Ramirez needs just 497 to attain his $22 million vesting option for 2019. And if there isn't a turnaround, the Red Sox are going to be once again searching for production from a position they desperately need punch from. But if it does work out, and Ramirez is the hitter he thinks he's going to rediscover, then his existence can be viewed in the same light as it was during the 2016 season. And that would go a long way to making this whole thing work.

"Last year, my teammates had my back," Ramirez said. "They took a little bit of the pressure off of me. They knew what I was dealing with. The good thing was that stayed inside. All the talk outside, it never bothered our clubhouse. Everybody knew what was going on. Now, I'm ready to go."