The Hall of Fame Case for Manny Ramirez

The latest Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released on Monday, and it features Red Sox icon Manny Ramirez as a headliner. Few athletes have electrified Boston more than Ramirez, whose talent was outrageous, but failed drugs tests and off-field antics will likely keep him out of Cooperstown. Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at his case.

Manny Ramirez

Manny Ramirez played in parts of 19 seasons, mainly with Cleveland, Boston and the Dodgers. His career slash line of .312/.411/.585 is otherworldly, and only seven men have outperformed his .996 OPS. Manny hit 555 home runs, more than Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Foxx or Ted Williams. He also drove in 1,831 runs, good for 18th all-time. In every way, Manny Ramirez was one of the greatest hitters ever to grasp a bat.

Manny Ramirez, Soul of the Red Sox

Perhaps more importantly, the charismatic outfielder helped bring two World Series championships to Boston, a city that yearned for just one. Along with David Ortiz, Manny defined a generation at Fenway Park, forming arguably the greatest three-four punch in modern baseball history. Ramirez made 12 All-Star teams; won nine Silver Slugger Awards; and was named MVP of the 2004 World Series. He was also the American League batting champion in 2002, and the home run king two seasons later. That illustrates just how dynamic he was at the plate.

In any other era, such numbers and achievements would have made Manny Ramirez a lock for the Hall of Fame. But his career overlapped a dark period for the National Pastime, which was blighted by performance-enhancing drug abuse. Ramirez failed three tests and served two suspensions in his career. The first came in May 2009, when Manny used a women’s fertility drug to aid his production. Though it came late in his career, one can only question the validity of so many numbers compiled through the years. That may be difficult for Ramirez to overcome.

The Long Road to Cooperstown

If superior players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are kept outside the Hall of Fame due to steroid allegations, then Manny Ramirez has little hope. At first glance, the evidence against those players is far sketchier than it is against Ramirez. Bonds received just 44% of the vote last year, his fourth on the ballot, while Clemens got 45%. Players need 75% to join the Hall of Fame. It’s a rocky road for anybody tainted by PED innuendo.

Manny Ramirez has admitted his mistakes. He’s even displayed a willingness to help younger players avoid similar pitfalls. As an instructor with the Chicago Cubs, Ramirez has been praised by Theo Epstein, whose life he routinely made difficult with the Red Sox. While those steps deserve praise, history says they won’t affect Hall of Fame voting numbers. Mark McGwire has enjoyed a renaissance as a coach, but his Cooperstown support slumped to just 12% last year. There’s little hope he’ll ever be elected.

If you add in Manny’s often prickly attitude, an uphill struggle awaits. People don’t easily forget a star outfielder roughing up a travelling secretary, for instance, and these things matter in a voting context. My best guess is that Ramirez receives around 25% of votes this year. That’s obviously inadequate, but it’s also a poor base from which to build support in subsequent years, sadly.

To anyone who watched the Red Sox during their golden rise in the 2000s, the suggestion that Manny Ramirez wouldn’t one day have a plaque in the Hall of Fame seems absurd. He was one of the most dominant hitters of his era, of any era. But poor decisions along the way will likely curtail his ride to Cooperstown. And that’s a real shame for all involved.

Mookie Betts Was Robbed of MVP

Most of the baseball world saw the AL Cy Young decision Wednesday as a real head-scratcher. In fact, it’s been a while since America has been content with any kind of election results. On Thursday, Major League Baseball gave them something to be very mad about. For the second time in his career, Mike Trout was named AL MVP, but did he deserve it?

This news really floored me. This surprised me because for the first time that I remember, MVP an MVP was decided because of a reputation, not by statistics or value. Mookie Betts took the baseball world by storm in 2016, but his remarkable season was not enough. Mike Trout clearly won this award based on his reputation, because his numbers certainly did not.

Betts’ MVP Pedigree

As we look at the major offensive categories, Betts stands above Trout in all of them. Trout hit a formidable .315 on the season but Betts’ was .318, with 41 more hits. Trout, however, is seen as more of a power hitter. He had 29 homers this season with 100 RBI. Surely, voters must’ve valued his power over Betts’, right? How? Betts hit 31 homers with 113 RBI, with half the season batting in the leadoff spot. Betts also had the edge in doubles, 42-32. Even in the best part of Trout’s game he was not as good as Betts.

Clearly, Betts was more valuable at the plate. That being said, let’s look at the other facets of the game. Trout had the slight edge in stolen bases, but Betts had 57 more total bases and led the league with 359. Also, Betts not only won the Gold Glove for right field, but was voted the best defender in the American League. Trout, on the other hand, did not win a Gold Glove this year. So while Betts was the best defensive player in the entire league, Trout wasn’t even top three.

So I ask, where is Trout more valuable? All-Star votes? Endorsements? Whatever it is, it’s not on the field clearly. Say all you want about WAR (wins above replacement), but regular wins have to pull some weight too. The Red Sox won 19 more games than the dismal Angels this season. On top of that, Betts did all this in playing in one less game than Trout, playing in the best division in baseball, and winning that division. Mike Trout may be your American League MVP, but to that I ask: how do you measure value?

Red Sox Looking At Carlos Beltran

A week after the Chicago Cubs finally ended their 108-year World Series drought, the other 29 teams are back to work. For the Red Sox, it is time to fill some holes in their lineup. With the departure of David Ortiz, the designated hitter position is finally back on their radar. While Edwin Encarnacion has been the hot name, Carlos Beltran is the newest player rumored to come to Boston.

This is not the first time the Red Sox have shown interest in Beltran. They were in theBeltran discussions for the 39-year old as recently as this year’s trade deadline. As a Yankee however, the asking price to trade within the division was too high. After an up-and-down second half with Texas, Beltran is again tied to Red Sox rumors. With Ortiz leaving a huge hole in the lineup, Beltran may be a cheap, short-term answer.

Even as a 39-year old, Beltran made his ninth All-Star game. Along the way, he hit .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBI with an .850 OPS. In the three seasons from 2013-2015, Beltran also hit .352 at Fenway Park. For his career, he has hit .281 with 421 home runs and 1,532 RBI. Although quietly, Beltran’s bat is certainly paving him a path towards Cooperstown based purely on his numbers.

Over his 19 major league seasons, Beltran has solidified himself as one of the all-time great switch hitters. Last year’s splits were consistently good from both sides of the plate. He hit a serviceable .279 against righties and a terrific .338 against lefties in 2016. Even with a lower average, most of his power comes batting left-handed with 20 of his 29 homers last year coming against righties. Beltran can also still play some outfield, where he had 242 at-bats last year.

His age, however, is still an issue. He will turn 40 in April, so a one-year deal with a second year option seems the most likely route. If the Red Sox have to overpay for a “rental” player like Beltran, that would take Encarnacion off the table. With the Yankees courting Encarnacion too, it could be 5-6 more years of playing against him in the division. A one-year deal could be the best thing for Beltran and the Red Sox. In the last full month with both of his teams last year, Beltran raked. In June with the Yankees, he hit .366, slugged .659 with a 1.081 OPS with seven home runs and 22 RBI. In the September stretch drive with the Rangers, he hit .304 with four homers and 18 RBI.

What I’m trying to say is, it seems there’s still something left in Carlos Beltran. If the Red Sox don’t want to offer five or six years for Edwin Encarnacion, this could be a short-term solution. A one-year deal where he DH’s and plays a little left field if need be could be a good fit for both sides. Whatever ounce this future Hall-of-Famer has left can really help the Red Sox next year.

Is Keeping John Farrell The Right Move?

In the wake of the Red Sox season being swept away, questions arose surrounding much of the ‘behind-the-scenes” personnel. The main focus was on manager John Farrell. After a disappointing end to the season, many fans thought their tenure with Farrell was bound to end. On Tuesday, however, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski told John FarrellFarrell, in a Fenway Park hallway, that he’d be back as manager in 2017.

John Farrell went through a roller-coaster 2016 season, much like his team, with plenty of criticism. Farrell, the pupil, was completely outmatched by Terry Francona, the teacher, in the ALDS. It all seemed like a fitting end for Farrell’s time in Boston. To the disappointment of many, that was not to be.

The main criticism of John Farrell has been his ability to manage during the game. Bullpen moves, pinch-hitters, and pinch-runners have buried Farrell’s reputation in the Boston market seemingly every game. When asked about the issue Tuesday, Dombrowski told the media that in-game managing was not vital to the job. Once you get past that absolutely unbelievable assumption, the decision to keep Farrell just keeps getting worse.

So, if in-game management doesn’t matter, what did John Farrell do well? Over the course of the year, he has received praise for how he’s worked with the younger players. Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley had All-Star seasons, and Mookie Betts is still the front-runner for MVP; their regular season can not be considered a disappointment. The playoffs, however, were a different story. Those three players went a combined 4-32 in the ALDS with 12 strikeouts. Any way you cut it, those guys were not ready for the post-season.

John Farrell’s So-Called “Pitching Prowess”

Farrell was also seen as something of a pitching guru when he was brought back to the Red Sox in 2013. For about four out of the six months of this 2016 season, the starting pitching was catastrophic. In the post-season, they returned to form. His big ticket, David Price, threw up in the post-season and then choked on his own vomit. For all intents and purposes, he was like the prophet Jonah if Jonah was swallowed by the whale. His starters only went just over 11 innings in the series and none were really effective. Now, he’s not the pitching coach and I get that. That being said, it all falls under him and he is a pitching guy…

So yes, John Farrell will probably lose the blame on Red Sox pitching when Bill Belichick stops receiving blame for the Patriots defense.

When you really look at it, what does Farrell do exceptionally well? How many playoff wins does he have in the last three years? What other playoff manager hurt his team more than John Farrell? To save yourself some time here it is: no, it is not the right move. Farrell’s biggest decision as manager has been to play Travis Shaw over Pablo Sandoval this season. So, yes, John Farrell’s greatest move as manager was playing a better hitter over a third baseman the size of a tow truck. Red Sox Nation best get ready: the manager of your dreams is still in the visitors dugout.

Where Did it All Go Wrong for the Red Sox?

The irony was painful. After a summer of blowout wins and offensive fireworks, the Red Sox succumbed weakly in the fall, unable to locate the big hit when it mattered most. A vaunted lineup, unrivaled in the Majors this season, was stifled by a resilient Cleveland Indians team, as old friend Terry Francona masterminded a Division Series sweep of Boston.

Red Sox

Before the series, few people took the Indians seriously. Three of their best players – Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – were missing due to injury. Another star, Corey Kluber, saw his start pushed back due to another ailment. By most measures, the Red Sox were far superior. Most fans predicted a swift sweep. That’s exactly what they got, but of an entirely different flavor.

A Shock for Red Sox Nation

The way it happened was stunning. Boston didn’t play great to close the regular season, but a refreshed approach was expected once the playoffs began. Instead, Red Sox Nation was left waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, for a team that never showed up. Almost from the first pitch in Cleveland, there was a sense of brewing melodrama. There was a sense that this team had run its course, quite incredibly. The Indians finished the job with shocking rapidity.

Perhaps plain old complacency is to blame. Did the Red Sox simply believe their own hype? That’s difficult to confirm, but it would at least explain the way Boston was caught like a deer in the headlights. When the games really mattered, when the wheat was separated from the chaff, this team wasn’t good enough. It just never got going. And now we’re left to contemplate through the bitter months ahead.

As people digest this loss around the hot stoves of New England, one topic will inspire more debate that any other: the choking offense. So powerful during the regular season, the Red Sox lineup froze on the biggest stage of all.

How Did the Red Sox Get Swept?

While it’s unfair to pinpoint any one guy for criticism, it is worth noting the performance of these praised hitters to paint a collective picture. Dustin Pedroia managed two hits in twelve ALDS at-bats. Mookie Betts, by all consensus an MVP candidate, collected just two in ten. That was better than Jackie Bradley, who produced just one hit, while Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez combined to go 6-for-24. It just wasn’t good enough.

Even David Ortiz, the master of October baseball, found little magic left in his wand. Papi added just one more hit to his postseason ledger before riding off into the cold night. For once, he couldn’t muster the big blow, and neither could his teammates. The Red Sox left 41 runners on base during this three-game series. They scored just seven runs. In the end, after all the worrying, that ridiculed rotation kept Boston in these games for the most part. The offense just couldn’t deliver.

And so, what now? The Red Sox will seek a replacement for Ortiz, as weird as that sounds. Perhaps John Farrell will see his position as manager reviewed. Maybe Dave Dombrowski will try to address some weaknesses throughout the offseason.

This young core will return to the postseason on plenty of occasions moving forward. But, right now, this was just a step too far for Mookie, Xander, Jackie and the rest. They should learn from the experience, and come back stronger for it. That may not help Red Sox fans deal with the present shock, but it should assist these players in preparing for future assaults on a World Series championship.

Red Sox On The Brink Of Elimination

With all the optimism September brought for the Red Sox, October is sweeping it away. Winless this month, the Red Sox are facing a harsh reality: elimination. Cleveland quickly became the setting of Red Sox Nation’s nightmares with the debacles of games one and two. After two utter disappointments, the season will hang in the balance of game three on Monday at Fenway.

Game one was seen as crucial in that the Red Sox would need to win to feel Eliminationcomfortable. With Rick Porcello going against Trevor Bauer, it seemed like a sure win for Boston. Porcello, however, dug his own grave in the third inning, giving up three home runs. Even though the Red Sox had the lead twice before that, they were never able to recover. They cut it down to one twice and stranded the tying run at third in the eighth. A gutsy five-out save by Cody Allen closed out a 5-4 Indians victory.

Down 1-0 in the series, David Price got the ball to try and tie the series. This seemed like the perfect setting for Price to “earn” his contract money after an under-performing regular season. Once again, Price couldn’t resist the urge to let us down. Adding to his atrocious postseason resumé, Price gave up five runs on six hits in three and one/third innings. If this were his last start of the season, it would only be fitting. A four-run second inning capped by a three-run home run by Lonnie Chisenhall finished off the Red Sox in game two. An injured Corey Kluber stuffed my foot in my own mouth and shut the Sox out in seven innings en route to a 6-0 victory.

The Smell Of Elimination In The Air

So now the stage is set for the Red Sox. Game three at Fenway with Clay Buchholz on the mound. Dustin Pedroia talked post game about how this performance does not embody the team. Well, it’s time to put up or shut up. Pedroia is just 1-8 this series. Also, David Ortiz, Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts are a combined 3-28 in the first two games. It’s a bit scary to think the only bright spots, offensively, in both games have been Brock Holt and Andrew Benintendi.

A rah-rah kind of speech rarely works in baseball, but if Dustin Pedroia lit a fire under his team, they’ll certainly need it. They sleep-walked in Cleveland and it’s yet to be determined whether they’ll wake up before they walk right off the cliff. History may be on their side, the Red Sox are the only franchise to ever come back from this same deficit in the ALDS twice. The first time they did that was in 1999, coincidentally against Cleveland.

After game two, it really can’t get much worse. Monday should be a slugfest. The Red Sox should get their act together and Buchholz is pitching in Fenway, so the balls should fly. That should favor the league’s best offense, but who knows with this team anymore? Let’s just hope the Red Sox save us the embarrassment of avoiding a sweep. On the bright side, if they lose this series it’ll surely be the end of John Farrell’s tenure. That is, if they have any pride at all. It’s the little things.