Buster Olney

Buster Olney on M&F: Red Sox 'need to choose between' Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval

August 26, 2015 - 9:52 am
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ESPN baseball analyst Buster Olney made his weekly appearance on Merloni & Fauria on Wednesday afternoon to talk about Dave Dombrowski and how the Red Sox can approach the coming offseason. To hear the interview, go to the Merloni & Fauria audio on demand page. When Olney first heard that the Red Sox were hiring Dave Dombrowski as their president of baseball operations, he said he was surprised because of the "signals we had gotten from John Henry about Ben Cherington" and how Henry had believed in his general manager's vision. But Dombrowski allows the Sox to make changes quickly, according to Olney, because he can say that the decisions made prior to his arrival were not his own and so he has legitimate reason to undo or advance them. One of those alterations could involve Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez's roles on the team going forward. Ramirez started taking ground balls at first base before Tuesday's game against the White Sox, signifying a possible transition to the corner for the former shortstop. Olney said he doesn't think the Sox can have both Sandoval and Ramirez on the team for next year. "I think ultimately they need to choose between one of the two guys, and whoever they decide to keep, that should be the first baseman, whether it's Pablo or whether it's Hanley," he said. "I can't imagine, after what they say this year, that they go into next season knowing that Ortiz is locked in as the DH with both those guys. That would really surprise me based on what I've heard from evaluators from other teams." It wouldn't be necessarily easy to move either of them given their contracts, but Olney said the possibility is definitely there. "There's always something to do," he said, "and I'm just riffing off the top of my head here. For example, you've got James Shields owed $65 million with the Padres, maybe you call the Padres and say, 'Look, that's not working out for you. How about we give you Pablo for him? the money's close, and we'll both try to make the best of a bad situation.' " Acquiring someone like Shields would address another problem the Red Sox are facing in their need for another arm for the rotation. Whether Shields would fill the No. 1 hole that's currently empty is a separate issue, but Olney said they need to do something to fix the staff. Though the Red Sox have been staunch in their philosophy of not making big investments in pitchers over 30, Olney said Dombrowski could be a vehicle to go back on that a little bit. "John Henry was really the first person in the Red Sox organization to put voice to the thought that investing in older pitchers was a bad idea, but I do think that John has demonstrated he'll change his mind and he'll go back and forth," Olney said. "Maybe bringing in Dombrowski allows him to sort of hide behind the new executive and say, 'Well, this is what Dombrowski wants.' We still haven't seen what Dave wants to do, but certainly in this free agent class in the fall there's going to be a ton of opportunity, whether it's a David Price or Jordan Zimmermann or some of the other many free agent pitchers who are available." There are two ways Dombrowski could go about picking up that kind of pitcher: in the free agent market as Olney said, or via a trade. With a farm system as burgeoning as Boston's, Olney said Dombrowski might be stuck in a position where dealing prospects is the only option. "He's got a shortstop, he's got a center fielder, he's got the nice pieces in place," Olney said, adding: "In theory, you could just move forward and try to hold a lot of the pieces in place, including some of the assets in the farm system, but here's the thing: How do you get an elite starting pitcher? If the St. Louis Cardinals, who just signed this whopper television contract, decide that they want to sign David Price, and Price wants to go there, then you're probably going to be outbid. If Jordan Zimmermann, who's from Wisconsin, decides that he would rather go to the Cubs, you're probably out of luck. If the Dodgers follow up on their interest in Johnny Cueto, and they make a prohibitive offer, you're not going to get an elite starting pitcher that way. "Somehow they have to get that guy. They not only need a guy to lead the rotation, but I think they also need a No. 2. They need a couple of guys in there, and how do you do that if you can't get them in the free agent market? You're probably going to have to trade." Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Red Sox news, visit the team page at weei.com/redsox. On the outside perception of Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Joe Kelly: "In the last couple weeks when I talked to people about Castillo, the jury's still out, and I think they want to see a larger body of work on him. Really since the beginning of spring training when you talk to people of other teams, they looked at Jackie Bradley Jr. as a guy they wanted to buy low because they thought that it had a chance to pay off in a big way. They thought that he had a lot more to offer than what he did last year. And Joe Kelly, because he throws so hard, I think everyone wants to be that team to have him when it suddenly clicks in. ... There will always be teams that want to take a gamble on that arm and who knows, maybe him listening to Carl Willis now is a sign that going forward he's going to be more to the team than what he was this year." On whether the Red Sox really wanted Ben Cherington to stick around: "I think Dave and just knowing how professional he is, if Ben for whatever reason decided he was going to stay, if he had said, 'OK, I'm willing to stay,' then I think Dave would have certainly worked with him, but here's the thing, and I remember writing about this when Dave was essentially let go by the Tigers that as we all speculated among the possibilities, and the Red Sox were one, no matter how the Red Sox spin it, when you bring in Dave Dombrowski, you're demoting Ben Cheringon. There's not a, 'Well, Ben had an opportunity and we wanted him to stick around.' No. You brought in Dombrowski essentially to take over the power in baseball operations, and Ben got shoved aside and so you're basically saying, 'You know what, we're offering you the opportunity to keep around, but it's pretty clear that we don't want you.' " On Ramirez moving back to the infield: "I do think playing in the infield probably gives him a better chance of success than making a transition to the outfield, but I can tell you this: When he played third base for the Marlins, and for many years he was a shortstop and they tried him at third when they got Jose Reyes, you talk to the staffers on the team and they said he was worse at third base than he was at shortstop, said he seemed to be having a difficult time adjusting to the speed. Who knows, maybe the fact that he won't have to make as many throws will be easier at first base, but based on his performance at third base, it's an open question as to how he'll do."