Sources: Red Sox agree to 4-year deal with Hanley Ramirez

By Alex Speier on November 24, 2014 at 12:17 am ET
Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz at the 2010 All-Star Home Run Derby, in which Ortiz beat his former -- and now future -- teammate in the finals. (Getty Images)

Hanley Ramirez and David Ortiz at the 2010 All-Star Home Run Derby, in which Ortiz beat his former — and now future — teammate in the finals. (Getty Images)

An industry source has confirmed that free agent Hanley Ramirez is on his way to Boston to finalize a five-year agreement with the Red Sox. News of the five-year deal was first reported (via twitter) by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, who reported that the agreement was “in the range of five years, $90M.”

UPDATE (Nov. 24, 1:20 p.m.): Another industry source has confirmed an update from Rosenthal that the deal is a four-year guarantee with a vesting option for a fifth rather than a straight five-year deal. Multiple reports have the deal as being worth $88 million over four years with a $22 million vesting option.

Ramirez, who signed with the Red Sox as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican in 2000 but was traded by the organization (with Anibal Sanchez and others) to the Marlins as part of the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston, is arguably the best pure hitter available this year in free agency. One evaluator recently called him the ‘€œclosest right-handed hitter to Manny [Ramirez] I have seen,’€ someone who is an impact bat regardless of who’€™s on the mound. In 2014, Ramirez nearly matched free agent Pablo Sandoval’€™s numbers against righties (he had a .283/.362/.439 line, compared to Sandoval’€™s .317/.363/.461) while proving even more impactful against lefties (.282/.393/.476). For his career, Ramirez has a higher OBP and roughly the same slugging percentage against righties as Sandoval and a massive advantage against lefties.

Still, a number of concerns appeared to dampen a potential free agent bonanza for Ramirez. Among them: He’ll be 31 in December, meaning that most of his next contract will fall outside of his career prime; he has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons; his defense at shortstop is poor, and while there is some belief in industry circles that he could represent a quality option at a corner position, his ability to adapt to a new spot represents something of an uncertainty; and concerns about his makeup with both the Marlins and Dodgers have been significant.

That said, those concerns were largely against the backdrop of expectations that a deal could reach more than five years and upwards of $20 million a year. The concerns still exist, but the risk undertaken by the Sox would appear to be at least somewhat diminished by the terms as reported by Rosenthal.

It remains to be seen what Ramirez’s role with the Sox will be. The Sox were one of three finalists for Ramirez’s fellow free agent, Pablo Sandoval. As midnight approached on Sunday night, the team had not given any indication to Sandoval’s representatives that it was no longer pursuing the 28-year-old switch-hitter.

Obviously, if the Sox fail to sign Sandoval, Ramirez would represent an immediate candidate to become the Sox’ starting third baseman. He would likely move off the position to flank Xander Bogaerts. But the team might also be able to fit both Sandoval and Ramirez in its lineup.

The Sox could sign Sandoval and Ramirez, putting Sandoval (who grades statistically and by evaluators as an above-average defensive third baseman) at third and Ramirez at short (thus displacing Bogaerts, who would either move to the outfield or become a trade candidate). Or — perhaps more likely — the team could have Sandoval at third while moving Ramirez (who grades as one of the worst defensive shortstops in the big leagues) to another corner position, most likely left field while keeping Bogaerts at short. In that scenario, the Sox might look to move Yoenis Cespedes.

It may take some time for the dust to settle to determine exactly how the Red Sox lineup will look. But Ramirez represents a bold and unexpected first stroke to the offseason, while permitting the team all manner of flexibility going forward this winter.

Both Christopher Meola (via twitter) and Jake Wesley (via twitter) reported earlier on Sunday that Ramirez’s deal with the Red Sox was all but finalized, with Wesley reporting that the length and salaries had already been determined. While industry sources told WEEI.com on Sunday evening that a Ramirez-to-the-Red Sox deal could come together quickly, Meola’s and Wesley’s initial reports remained unconfirmed until Rosenthal’s follow-up.

The Ramirez signing came as a bit of a stunner. Multiple industry sources had suggested the Sox were prioritizing Sandoval over Ramirez as a third base solution for a number of reasons. Interestingly, Ramirez’s reported agreement is for a term that is close to what the Sox reportedly had been offering Sandoval (five years in the $95 million range). Now, it remains to be seen whether the Sox reallocated the money they’d earmarked for Sandoval to Ramirez or if they plan on adding two of the top position players on this year’s market.

For Ramirez, agreeing to a deal with the Red Sox represents a homecoming of sorts. He not only came up through the Sox system (with current Sox GM Ben Cherington serving as his farm director from 2002-05) but he also made his big league debut with the Sox in 2005, going 0-for-2 in a September call-up. Though he was traded that offseason and went on to be the National League Rookie of the Year in 2006, Ramirez’s 2005 season — in which his performance in Double-A Portland was considered a disappointment — was nonetheless remarkable given the group of Sox prospects with whom he played, including: Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon Moss, David Murphy and others. (More on that 2005 Portland team, as well as Ramirez’s history in the Red Sox farm system, is here.)

Now, while nearly a decade removed from that ascent through the minors, it appears that Ramirez will finally get his opportunity to let his big league career take shape with the Sox.

Rob Bradford contributed to this report.