Fernando Abad: What to Expect Moving Forward

News came at the end of February that Fernando Abad would be competing for his home country in the World Baseball Classic. Abad will miss time with the Red Sox this spring training to pitch for the Dominican Republic. Fans around Red Sox Nation are wondering what this means for the 31 year-old left-hander, as well as the future of the team’s bullpen.

Fernando Abad is set to make $2,000,000 this Fernando Abadseason, but that money is not guaranteed. He was traded by the Minnesota Twins to the Sox in 2016 at the non-waiver trade deadline, and was immediately thrown into the fire by Sox manager John Farrell. In 18 appearances with the team, Abad was simply a-bad pitcher. In 12 and 2/3 innings, he recorded a 6.39 ERA and a WHIP of 1.66. The Red Sox kept Fernando Abad off of the ALDS roster.

Fernando Abad Moving Forward

The Dominican team has had the pleasure of using Abad during the tournament, but the Sox have decisions to make. Abad is a guy who is still trying to win a spot in the Boston bullpen. He was unable to prove his worth last year, and isn’t doing himself any favors choosing to participate in the WBC. This event is a huge deal in other countries, but for Abad, is it really worth not having a big-league job this season?

The Red Sox bullpen has vastly improved this off-season. We traded for a legitimate set-up man in Tyler Thornburg. Also, Carson Smith will be back from his Tommy-John surgery. Joe Kelly emerged as a go-to guy out of the pen in the playoffs last year. The Matt Barnes/Robbie Ross duo is a solid right/lefty combo that John Farrell can go to late in the game. Meanwhile, Craig Kimbrel is still as effective as Craig Kimbrel will ever be. Where does this leave Abad?

Fernando Abad can enjoy his time in the World Baseball Classic, as I am sure he will. There simply isn’t enough room for Abad in our bullpen as long as everyone stays healthy. After a dismal performance last year and poor decision-making now, he has most likely outlasted his stay in Boston.

Christian Vazquez: Defensive Superstar in the Making

As soon as I saw the Spring Training video of Christian Vazquez shooting down Trevor Plouffe attempting to steal second base, I knew he was special, (the video is titled ‘Vazquez throws out Plouffe’ and can be found on MLB.com). They don’t just hand out the nickname “Little Yadi” to anyone. Vazquez emerged as the potential catcher of the future just a few years ago. Now, he is 26 years old, and we are still waiting to see if he can get the starting job behind the plate.

Ever since Vazquez reached the Major Leagues in 2014, it’s been clear that he struggles Christian Vazquezin the batter’s box. Vazquez has a career .233 batting-average in just 347 at-bats. Vazquez has showed signs though, as he crushed a home run over the Monster against Yankees RP Dellin Betances last year. Betances is one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball, and the fact that Vazquez could hold his own against him and go yard attests to his hitting ability. He simply gets overwhelmed at times against big league pitching.

Christian Vazquez vs. Sandy Leon

Sandy Leon emerged last season as the everyday catcher for Boston. He found success in our lineup, producing a .310 average. Leon only made one error behind the plate last year, and threw out 42% of potential base runners. Most Sox fans will see these numbers and immediately see Sandy Leon as the starter this year too, but not so fast.

Leon was one of the streakiest hitters on the team last year. He was the best hitter on the team at times, while at other times he couldn’t make contact. When he wasn’t hitting well, he was basically a liability. Not to mention, Sandy Leon was absolutely awful in the playoffs. He went 1-10 with 5 K’s against Cleveland in the divisional series. I have not seen enough consistent production from Leon to tag him with the Opening Day start this year; I’m also not John Farrell.

The Case for Vazquez

Christian Vazquez has the most raw talent in the Red Sox catching core. He can take over a game from behind the plate with his framing, and his blocking is advanced beyond his competition. Vazquez is a defensive beast, and it is very apparent when watching him work behind the plate in-game. He is the glue that holds the Red Sox defense together. Blake Swihart has shown an inability to improve upon his receiving thus far, and some say he has caught a case of the yips this spring. Sandy Leon has been a hit or miss in all aspects of his game. Who does this leave? Christian Vazquez, (or Mini Yadi).

Vazquez is dedicated to his craft. He is ready for the challenge that awaits him. We’re talking about a guy who is not only compared to Yadier Molina, but works out with him and his brothers in the offseason. Don’t forget, Molina is only a career .285 hitter. Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon have been inconsistent producers at catcher. Don’t get me wrong, Leon belongs in the lineup against lefties. John Farrell has already come out and said that Hanley Ramirez will DH against righties this year. Does this mean that against lefties we will see Leon DH, and Vazquez behind the plate? Sure, he still needs to improve his hitting. Once he does, there is no question as to who will be catching every day in Boston.

Roger Clemens Deserves Induction into the Hall of Fame

Like many baseball fans, I look down on the players of the 90s who used steroids to advance their careers. Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds saw their numbers inflate with their muscles and later deflate with their reputations. Sosa had 600 career home runs with seven all-star appearances. Barry Bonds technically holds the all-time home run record (even though I still think it’s rightfully Hank Aaron’s). Despite those strong numbers, there’s something about these players that rub fans the wrong way. Maybe it was Sosa’s aloofness, or Bonds’ cocky attitude. Personally, I think it was their lack of enthusiasm for the game. They didn’t love the game as much as most Hall of Famers do, which is why they may never get inducted. Roger Clemens, however, is a different story. Roger Clemens deserves induction into the Hall of Fame.

Before I discuss Clemens’ worthiness, I should confess that I never was a huge fan of his. As aClemens Deserves Induction life long Red Sox fan, I saw his departure from Boston as the ultimate act of betrayal paralleling Babe Ruth’s in 1920. I also couldn’t stand Clemens’ arrogance as a player and person, especially in the wake of the steroids scandal. Clemens, however, while self-serving, took the mound every day to win. This view sets him apart from the others suspected of steroid use, and is why Clemens deserves induction into the Hall of Fame.

Clemens’ Numbers Through His Career

Clemens broke into the majors in 1986, helped the Red Sox reach the World Series, while taking AL MVP honors. He spent the next twenty-three years accumulating 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, eleven all-star appearances, two World Series championships, and an astounding seven Cy Young Awards. What’s particularly amazing is that Clemens won the Cy Young Award eighteen years apart (1986, 2004). Most pitchers’ careers don’t even last that long. Another amazing feat is that Clemens is one of only three pitchers to strike out 20 batters in a nine inning game (Kerry Wood and Max Sherzer are the other two). What’s even more impressive is that Clemens performed the feat twice, ten years apart (1986, 1996).

Clemens’ Tenacity Cancels Out Controversy

You can’t ignore the arrogant and sensitive comments Clemens has made throughout his career. There’s his vehement denial of steroid use (I’ll root for the Yankees before he ever confesses). There’s also his diva-like persona and views towards Asian baseball fans that has earned him rebuke. During his days with the Yankees, Clemens once quipped that he hated that he had carrying his own bags through the airport. But teammate Jason Giamni later told The New York Times, “I’d carry his bags for him, just as long as he is on the mound.” This testimony suggests that Clemens added much more to the game than those who also fell under the suspicion of steroid use. If we ding Clemens for his sins, then we should remove Mike Piazza, who also fell under the same suspicions of steroid use.

Clemens had the ability. He also had the longevity and spirit to go out there and win every day. His desire to win, and his ability are the reasons why Clemens deserves induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Will Boston Love or Loathe Chris Sale?

I am thrilled that Boston acquired Chris Sale, but not too thrilled. While he has excellent numbers, his alleged prima-donna attitude worries me. Some might think it’s petty to focus on his behavior. There’s the infamous uniform incident from last season when Sale destroyed the White Sox throwback jerseys. He’s also clashed with White Sox managers and front office people alike. For some it’s not a big deal. But will Boston loathe Chris Sale if his attitude keeps the Red Sox from winning?

Red Sox fans have a history of not tolerating a player’s bad attitude, no matter how great they are.loathe chris sale Ted Williams, despite being the last player to hit .400, received his fair share of boos at Fenway Park (purposely lining balls into the stands probably didn’t help). Mo Vaughn, despite being an All-Star and 1995 MVP, constantly clashed with Red Sox management. In fact, Vaughn’s animosity factored into the team’s decision not to resign him after becoming a free agent in 1998. Most fans might say, “Who cares?” Personally, I don’t care too much either. In Sale’s case, however, his history of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and deciding what uniform the team will wear suggests he may not want to put the team before himself.

Camaraderie among teammates is important. If players don’t support each other then the team won’t win. It also affects morale. Fans in recent years have seen its fair share of fights between teammates. The heated dugout argument between Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley and John Farrell in June of 2015 caught people’s attention and made many question Miley’s ability to keep his cool. It reminds me of last season’s incident where Sale stuck up for teammate Adam LaRoche. LaRoche was asked not to bring his son to the clubhouse anymore, which led Sale to criticize the White Sox front office. To many, it made Sale look like a hero for standing up to authority. Personally though, I think Sale used it as an opportunity to make himself look bigger than he is.

Loathe Chris Sale? Not So Fast, But…

I don’t loathe Chris Sale myself. He’s a dominant pitcher and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll bring to Boston. But I hope he’s aware of what he’s getting himself into. Badmouthing the White Sox front office might fly in Chicago, but I doubt Dave Dombrowski will tolerate that. Arguing with manager Robin Ventura and getting involved in another player’s business might also fly in Chicago, but Boston fans won’t be so forgiving if he flashes that attitude at them. Red Sox fans will love Sale if he can help deliver another World Series title for Boston. But if he wants to be the defiant player he acted like in Chicago, he’d better prepare for an onslaught of verbal abuse from Red Sox fans, especially if he doesn’t deliver.

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.

Chicago Cubs Fans Truly Appreciate Series Win

When I saw the Chicago Cubs win the NLCS, I quickly looked up ticket and airline prices. My eyes almost fell out of my head when I saw that standing room only tickets started at $1500-2000. I kept looking though and eventually found a ticket I could afford. So on Saturday, October 29th, I flew to Chicago to see Game 4 of the 2016 World Series (albeit from a rooftop across the street from Wrigley). Although I’m not a Cubs fan, I had to be there. Only a Red Sox fan could appreciate the pain Chicago Cubs fans truly had endured for so long. Or so I thought.

Cubs fans stuffed the airplane to Chicago. Hats, jerseys, and t-shirts with the CubsChicago Cubs Fans truly emblem adorned fans. An airline attendant told me he could tell that most of them weren’t true fans because their apparel looked too new (Thank God I was wearing a well-worn Cubs hat). As I embarked into Chicago via the subway, I talked to hordes of Cubs fans from Arizona, North Carolina, and Louisiana. A man from South Carolina told me he was a diehard fan who flew in just for the day. “I’m not even going to the game,” he told me. “I’m just going to watch the game in a bar and fly out later tonight.” That’s true determination.

I arrived at a very crowded Wrigley Field at 10am that morning. Lines for bars surrounding 1060 West Addison stretched around the block. Those waiting seemed unfazed by the $100-200 cover charge. After spending most of my budget on a ticket and airfare, I declined to stand in line for 2-3 hours. I eventually found a bar two blocks away charging $10 to get in. I didn’t want to pay anything, but my need for cold beer and a bathroom overwhelmed my self-protest.

Being a Red Sox Fan Doesn’t Mean You Understand Chicago Cubs Fans

While I sipped on a Molson Canadian and talked to a group of fans from Nebraska I pondered something. Although I’m a Red Sox fan who understands the pain of waiting 80+ years for a World Series win, I don’t think I can understand what this means for Chicago. I went there thinking that I’d easily relate to them. To a certain degree, I do. But in talking to fans from around the nation, I saw they were different from Red Sox fans. The Red Sox came close to victory more than once. The Cubs, however, hadn’t seen a World Series since 1945. Red Sox fans grimace when they think about Bill Buckner, but Chicago will always wince when they think about Steve Bartman. Red Sox pain lasted 86 years. But Chicago Cubs fans truly understand that pain because it lasted well over a century.

Or Maybe Chicago Cubs Fans Truly Relate to Red Sox Fans

Tony Rossi, a Boston native living in Chicago, can’t get enough of the Cubs and baseball. “What I love about the Cubs is that they offer a baseball experience very similar to that of the Red Sox,” Rossi told me. “You catch a game and it’s all about baseball. Wrigley and Fenway keep it about baseball.”

One thing’s for sure. Cubs and Red Sox fans get along with each other pretty well because of the drought both fan bases experienced. For Red Sox fans like Rossi living in Chicago, home is only a block away. “Being a Red Sox fan in Chicago, I miss being able to go to Fenway as much as I used to. Living up the street from Wrigley Field has helped.”