The club instead opted to buy out Ramirez's contract for $1 million. The veteran will become a free agent on Saturday, and the Sox could still bring Ramirez back in 2016 on a smaller contract.
Ramirez has spent eight years on the South Side, and he enjoyed one of his finest seasons in 2014. During that year, he hit .273 with 15 home runs and 74 RBIs and won the Silver Slugger Award. He also was a finalist for the Gold Glove.
However, Ramirez regressed in 2015, hitting just .249 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. His OPS dropped from .713 in 2014 to .642 this year.
Despite that regression, this move comes as a bit of a surprise, because top shortstop prospect Tim Anderson is considered to be about a year away from breaking into the big leagues. Many observers, including me, thought Ramirez would return for one more season as a stopgap, keeping the spot warm for Anderson in 2017. Instead, the Sox appear to be moving in a different direction.
The other internal option is Tyler Saladino, who is a capable defensive shortstop, but figures to struggle with the bat. Saladino hit just .225 with a .602 OPS in 254 plate appearances after the Sox called him up in July.
The list of free-agent shortstops this offseason is not a strong one. The best names out there (besides Ramirez) are Ian Desmond, Jimmy Rollins and Asdrubal Cabrera. Desmond is probably the most attractive option of that group, but he will probably get more than a one-year deal, which wouldn't make much sense for the Sox.
It's impossible to judge this move without seeing how the decision fits into the bigger picture of the offseason. There are only two conclusions we can draw today:
- The Sox saved themselves $9 million, which could allow them to be bigger players in free agency; and
- The Sox have added shortstop to their list of offseason questions marks.