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Should the Houston Astros Pursue Hanley Ramirez?

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Hanley Ramirez was DFA’d by Boston yesterday, so lets examine the pros and cons for the Astros in a decision to potentially sign Ramirez.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the Red Sox designated Hanley Ramirez for assignment. The move was somewhat surprising but perhaps it should not have been - at this point Hanley is expensive and not very good, and Boston has little need for his services with Dustin Pedroia returning from the disabled list. The team decided to be proactive by cutting their losses before letting Hanley’s lack of playing time turn into a locker room problem, which was probably a good move overall for the first place 35-16 Red Sox.

Naturally, when a big name like Hanley Ramirez becomes available, its going to pique some interest. The veteran will certainly be picked up by someone, but does he have enough left in the tank to garner Houston’s consideration?

The Case For Signing Hanley

Hanley Ramirez fills in a natural gap in the Astros roster at DH, but how effectively would he do so? Hanley is batting .254/.313/.395 for a 90 wRC+ on the season, but he came out of the gates strong before a recent 0-20 streak pulled down his averages. In April, Hanley batted .330/.400/.474, and was a fixture in the middle of Boston’s lineup for most of the season.

Hanley had an atrocious, injury-riddled season in 2017, but the year before that he looked like his old self. He finished the 2016 season with a .286/.361/.505 slashline, adding on 30 homers for a 128 wRC+; the point is, its not like Hanley brings no upside to the table, as he is just two years from a pretty stellar season.

Its possible that the Astros could see something they like - or something they can improve - in Hanley’s game. No, the Astros don’t have nearly the same pedigree for revitalizing veteran hitters like they do pitchers, but there are some reasons Hanley fits in Houston.

Minute Maid is very righty friendly, and despite his struggles on the season, Hanley has fared well against left-handed pitching. Hanley has a 136 wRC+ agaisnt lefties for his career and a 132 mark on the season, so at worst, Hanley could make a valuable platoon pinch-hitting specialist. The problem with that, of course, is that the same playing time problem exists here, something we’ll address shortly.

The Case Against

As we discussed earlier, Hanley offers at least some indiscernible upside, but is the risk worth the potential reward? Including this one, Hanley is on pace for a sub-93 wRC+, negative WAR seasons in three of the past four seasons, something Boston certainly did not envision when they signed him to a four-year $88-million deal three years ago.

This season started out promising for Hanley, but things quickly went South, and the numbers are looking even worse than in his “nightmare” 2017. Hanley is making contact slightly more this year, but he is hitting the ball with far less power - his hard hit rate is starkly down from last year (35.3% to 31.3%), and as a result his power numbers have plummeted (.188 ISO last year vs .141 this year).

If the Astros had any interest in Hanley, it would be for a power-hitting project. But this year, Hanley simply doesn’t have the juice, and Hanley’s declining walk numbers aren’t doing anything to make up for it.

This is all without even mentioning the logistical roster issues. Earlier, we mentioned that in an ideal world, Hanley would make a good pinch-hitter to throw out against left-handed pitching. The problem is Boston let Hanley go because they foresaw his lack of playing time becoming a locker room issue; things would be no different in Houston.

There are no guarantees Hanley would receive regular playing time for the Astros - yes, Evan Gattis is also struggling with a 79 wRC+, but at the moment the players are trending in opposite directions.

Its hard to imagine former Astros assistant and current Boston manager Alex Cora thinks too differently from his former boss AJ Hinch. Cora was the one who decided to move on from Ramirez, and if Cora does not think Hanley is good enough to start for Boston, I doubt Hinch will think Hanley is good enough to start for Houston. And if a part-time role doesn’t suit Hanley in Boston, there’s no reason to think it would work out here.

The Verdict

Unless someone in the Astros front-office or coaching staff sees something special they like in Hanley we’re not seeing, I do not expect the team to have much interest.

If the Astros do look for an upgrade at the designated hitter position, I think they would be inclined to initially give deserving prospects a chance. JD Davis has torn up AAA this season, and has looked competent at the Major League level in limited at-bats. I don’t see the Astros going out of their way to add an additional stopgap at this point, especially one with dubious risk/reward.

Not to say that the Astros won’t or shouldn’t be positioning themselves to be involved in any trade deadline sweepstakes - just that if they do go for an upgrade, look for a more permanent fix. Hanley would be nothing more than a band aid for the Astros offense, and a flimsy one at that.