BOSTON -- In a stunning move, the Red Sox designated slumping slugger Hanley Ramirez for assignment on Friday to clear a spot on the roster for second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who was activated from the disabled list.
All the speculation leading up to Friday was that Blake Swihart, who is out of Minor League options and has been used sparingly by manager Alex Cora this season, would be the one to get DFA'd.
Instead, the Red Sox parted ways with Ramirez, who was hitless in his last 21 at-bats.
• Moreland, Swihart to receive more playing time
"He did an outstanding job early in the season, but sometimes you've got to make tough decisions on a daily basis," Cora said. "Sometimes it was tough not to play Mitch [Moreland] and sometimes it was tough not to play Hanley, just like everybody else."
The move will allow Cora to play first baseman Mitch Moreland on a near everyday basis. Swihart, who has started just four games this season, all at DH, should also see more time with the revamped roster.
"I don't think he didn't fit in but I think his role was going to diminish and for how good of a player he is, it was going to be difficult," Cora said. "It was probably platoon, maybe come in and pinch-hit late in games, and that's not the perfect role for Hanley Ramirez. He's a guy that needs his at-bats. Obviously, with the versatility we have with the other players, with Brock [Holt], with [Eduardo] Nunez, and with Blake, as far as managing the game, it's a lot easier with those guys."
Ramirez thanked Red Sox fans in a tweet shortly after the move was made official. "Thank you #RedSoxNation. It's been real. Love you always," wrote Ramirez.
The 34-year-old hit .254/.313/.395 with six home runs and 29 RBIs in 44 games for the Red Sox this year. Ramirez had a solid start to the season, hitting .311 with three homers and 17 RBIs in his first 103 at-bats.
"It was a baseball-related move for us," president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. "We've been looking at making a move because we knew that this day with Dustin would come, where he'd be coming back, probably since February, since Spring Training. We talked about different possibilities when somebody would be ready, when they won't be ready. We talked about all type of possibilities. So for us it really was a baseball move, one that I talked to Alex about yesterday. We were prepared to maybe go in a different direction with our move. He called me, was about 11:30 in the morning, I was getting ready to go for a run. And Alex says, 'I've got a thought for you with what we're doing. And he said that this was a move that I would like to make. I recommend making it.'
"It comes down to my final decision, but [Cora] said, 'I really want to play Mitch Moreland more. He's a good player, he's played very well for us. I don't think that Hanley is a person that sits idling on the bench well. It gives us an opportunity to keep Blake Swihart. Also we'll be in a position to give Blake some more playing time.' So he said this is something I'd recommend us doing. And I said, 'You sure?' And he said, 'Yeah.' And he went through some different reasons behind it from his thought process. And what I asked him to do at that point was to make sure that he went to the ballpark, because he gets there earlier than me, meet with his coaching staff, and be in a position where that's what he really wanted to do. And when I got to the ballpark yesterday, Frank [Wren, senior VP/player personnel] and I drove over and I said, 'This is what we would like to do. So we're proceeding in that direction."
Video: ATL@BOS: Ramirez DFA'd, Pedroia activated from DL
Once Boston's top prospect, Ramirez was traded to the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in November on Nov. 24, 2005. That trade worked for both sides, as Beckett and Lowell helped the Red Sox win a World Series in '07, and Ramirez emerged into a star for the Marlins, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award in '06.
A key wrinkle to this move is a vesting option in Ramirez's contract. The Red Sox reacquired Ramirez as a free agent, signing him to a four-year, $88 million contract that includes a $22 million vesting option for 2019 if he reaches 497 plate appearances this year. Ramirez already has 195 plate appearances and was well on his way to reaching the threshold that would cause the option to vest, but by letting him go now, the Red Sox will assure that does not happen with them.
When a player is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
Unless he's claimed, the Red Sox will pay about $15 million that remains on Ramirez's contract, which runs through the end of this season. It should not be assumed that the Red Sox are just going to eat the money and let Ramirez sign elsewhere. In fact, there is some recent precedent for a team DFAing an impending free agent and working out a reasonable trade. The Mets designated Matt Harvey for assignment on May 5 and then swung a deal with the Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco a few days later. Both players are eligible for free agency this offseason and have been performing well with their new clubs.
In his four seasons with Boston since 2014, Hanley hit .260/.326/.450 with 78 home runs, 255 RBIs and 71 doubles.
Ramirez was at his best in 2016, helping the Red Sox win the American League East title by belting 30 homers to go with 111 RBIs and an .866 OPS. Hampered by discomfort in both shoulders last season, Ramirez was inconsistent but came up big in Boston's Division Series loss to the Astros, going 8-for-14 with two doubles.
The charismatic Ramirez came into this season optimistic he would have a rebound season, and spoke with enthusiasm of how following Tom Brady's "TB12" exercise regimen and diet would help him. Ramirez also noted last winter that he was going to be "Miami Hanley" again.
"I was a little surprised," Pedroia said. "I've played with Hanley since we were real young. It's tough. I haven't spoke with him yet, but obviously everyone knows my relationship with him. I care about him and his family and everything. I wish him the best. I hope he'll play somewhere and do great things."
A three-time All-Star for the Marlins, Ramirez finished second in NL Most Valuable Player voting in 2009, hitting .342 to win the league's batting title. In that season, Ramirez had 106 RBIs and 24 home runs with 42 doubles in 151 games at shortstop. He won Silver Slugger Awards in '08 and '09 and was the NL Player of the Month in June '08.
Afterward, he had some good moments for the Dodgers, producing an .874 OPS over parts of three seasons.
As recently as Thursday, Ramirez was still batting third for the Red Sox. But he hit just .163 with three home runs, 12 RBIs, four walks, two doubles and 14 strikeouts in 19 games in May.
It remains to be seen if the Red Sox will miss Ramirez in their "rivalry" games against the Yankees. This season, Ramirez belted three homers in 22 plate appearances against the Bronx Bombers, slashing .389./.455/.889.
"It was a bit of a stunner, obviously," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "The first [thought] was, 'I'm glad we don't have to see him.' He has some big hits against us already this year, and obviously he's still a guy that probably has a lot of baseball left in him. I'm sure there will be a number of teams inquiring about him.
"When you take a step back and look at it, I think you can understand the move to some degree for them and their roster. But still, when you see that come across, I think it's a bit of a stunner for a guy who's still a good player and has had the career that he's had."
The label of "big-game player" would be a fair way to characterize Ramirez, who is a .380 lifetime hitter in 80 postseason at-bats.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.