After a season of shuffling center fielders, the Red Sox will no longer have that luxury or that problem. Instead, with yesterday's trade of Coco Crisp for Kansas City righthanded reliever Ramon Ramírez, the Sox were able to shore up their late-inning relief corps while dissolving their logjam in the outfield.
Not only does the trade open room for Jacoby Ellsbury to play every day, it provides a key piece to a bullpen that was inconsistent through much of last season. The addition of Ramírez, who is particularly tough on righthanders, could also mean Justin Masterson is headed for the rotation.
"In Ramírez we believe we've acquired a young, controllable reliever that can really help our bullpen," general manager Theo Epstein said on a conference call. "He has a plus fastball, 92-95 miles per hour, and an outstanding power changeup. A lot of people think it's a split; it's actually a changeup, 87-88. That's a swing-and-miss pitch for him against lefthanded and righthanded hitters. And [he has] a pretty good slider.
"He's very quietly had a tremendous amount of success in the major leagues over the last two seasons. We were looking for that type of upgrade to add to our bullpen."
The 27-year-old Ramírez blossomed this past season, with a 3-2 record and 2.64 ERA. He had 70 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings, with a 1.23 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), and limited righthanders to a .198 average. From the Dominican Republic, Ramírez said he has spent the last three years working on that lauded changeup.
"It's become a better pitch as I've improved my fastball command," Ramírez said through interpreter Eddie Romero, the team's coordinator of Latin American operations. "That's what's allowed it to become a plus pitch."
Epstein called Ramírez "an extremely hard and diligent worker, fearless, and the manner in which he pitches reflects that."
Ramírez said, "As far as my demeanor, I like being aggressive. I like attacking the strike zone. It doesn't matter the count, I just want to be as aggressive as possible and go after hitters."
Crisp's agent, Steve Comte, said he and his client were happy the Sox were finally able to accommodate a trade request Crisp originally made in spring training. But the Sox stuck with Crisp through 2008, leading to a flexible center-field situation in which neither he nor Ellsbury was guaranteed a spot in the lineup.
"It was a learning experience, definitely, first and foremost, is how I'd classify it," Crisp said on a conference call. "It was a great experience for me, coming from a contending team like Cleveland, coming to a team that was already in the mix.
"I've learned I guess on the field and off the field, which helped me grow. The one negative aspect that came out of the whole thing was that I was plagued by nagging injuries primarily the whole time I was there with the exception of a month here and a month there until the end of the season, when I was fully healed from my hand injury. It's been an up-and-down ride."
The trade comes three years after Crisp was acquired from the Indians with David Riske and Josh Bard for Andy Marte, Guillermo Mota, and Kelly Shoppach. But Crisp was injured almost as soon as his tenure in Boston began. He started just 100 games in 2006 and 98 in 2008, with his most productive season squeezed in between, when he turned into a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. Crisp hit .297 in 2004 and .300 in 2005 with Cleveland, then never hit better than .283 with the Sox. His power also eroded - from 15 homers in his final season with the Indians to just 21 in three seasons in Boston.
"I think when we acquired Coco, he was coming off an age 25 season in which he posted impressive numbers," Epstein said. "For whatever reasons, those trend lines didn't continue with us. Injuries played a factor and the ballpark played a factor. Right field took a lot of home runs away from Coco [at Fenway Park]. He didn't necessarily make all the [offensive] strides that we had hoped for."
While the Sox had anticipated there would be numerous teams interested in Crisp, who is under contract for 2009 at $5.75 million with a club option for 2010, it came down to two clubs. Cincinnati was the other team heavily involved in the Crisp talks, according to a baseball source.
But the Royals provided the best fit, in the person of Ramírez, who said he had recalled his one career inning in Fenway with his father earlier in the day.
"You sense the history of the stadium; it was packed," Ramírez said. "You have all these fans there. It was like a major league moment. You're in Fenway Park and you recall the level of players on this field. It was something that caused me a great amount of joy, a very proud moment for me. The support of the fans is something that makes you want to give that extra little bit, that 110 percent. I couldn't be happier right now. I'm ecstatic."