Let’s start with this: Manny Ramirez will likely never get into the Hall of Fame because his indiscretions took place after performance-enhancing drug testing was in place. He tested positive at a time when there was no gray area, as there was for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who allegedly took PEDs when there was no testing procedure or punishment schedule in place.
From there, we can build a case for and against Ramirez, as he is eligible for the first time next year.
■ One can argue that the PED use started very late in Ramirez’s career (at least that’s when he got caught). He failed three tests (two suspensions), but it was well after Ramirez had established himself as the best righthanded hitter on the planet. His first failed test was announced on May 7, 2009, and he was suspended 50 games for, according to an ESPN report, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a women’s fertility drug taken by steroid users to restart their natural testosterone once they have stopped their steroid cycle.
■ He retired on April 8, 2011, after batting just .059 (1 for 17) in five games for the Rays. The reason he retired was that he tested positive in a spring training drug test for a banned substance. Then he retook the test and tested positive again. Ramirez dropped his appeal and retired rather than face a 100-game suspension. From 2011-13, Ramirez kicked around playing overseas.
■ Ramirez has turned his life around. He has admitted to making mistakes by taking PEDs. Ramirez works for the Cubs on a special assignment deal teaching hitters and is considered an excellent coach.
■ Ramirez’s numbers are extraordinary. He hit .312 for his career. His .996 OPS is eighth all time. His .411 OBP is 32nd. He knocked in 1,831 runs, 18th all time. In 1999, he knocked in 165 runs for the Indians. He hit 555 home runs, 15th all time. He even led the American League twice in outfield assists — 19 in 1996 and 17 in 2005.
■ Oblivious, in his own little world most of the time.
■ He had that terrible altercation with Jack McCormick, knocking down the Red Sox traveling secretary when he wasn’t able to accommodate a last-minute ticket request.
■ Wasn’t always the best teammate. Not always on board with the adhering to team rules.
■ Defense was not a strength.
■ The PED violations are maybe too much to overcome in the eyes of voters, even though they came at the end of his career.
Two other players who will be eligible for the first time next year are Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero.
Both should be Hall of Famers, but Rodriguez will have the steroid stigma attached to him, much like Mike Piazza did. That may prevent him from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Rodriguez was named as a steroid user in Jose Canseco’s book, “Juiced.” In fact, Canseco claimed he introduced Rodriguez to steroids. Rodriguez won 13 Gold Gloves, made 14 All-Star teams, and hit .296 in 21 seasons. He was the best all-around catcher of his era. Piazza’s entry into the Hall should help Rodriguez.
It’s unlikely Guerrero makes it on the first ballot, but his numbers over 16 years were excellent, from the .318 average to the 2,590 hits to a 140 OPS-plus (.931 career OPS) to the 449 homers. Not to mention that he was an outstanding right fielder (though he never won a Gold Glove) and won an MVP (and was top three two other times).
Other first-time candidates next year include Magglio Ordonez, who hit .309 for his career and won the AL batting title in 2007 with a .363 average; Jorge Posada, who hit 275 homers and won four championships for the Yankees; and Jason Varitek, who helped the Red Sox to two championships and was their captain for years.
Rodriguez, though, is the most likely first-timer to get in, along with holdovers Jeff Bagwell, Trevor Hoffman, and Tim Raines.
Should Sox make a run at Upton?
It’s true that when Dave Dombrowski looks at an outfield with Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, and Rusney Castillo, a smile comes to his face because he knows he has the best defensive outfield in baseball.
That’s terrific, and when you add a righthanded bat such as Chris Young and you have Brock Holt to put out there on occasion, it’s easy to see why there’s contentment.
But should there be?
Should the Red Sox be in the market for Justin Upton, a 28-year-old free agent outfielder with righthanded power? OK, they spent a ton of money on David Price. They acquired the best closer in Craig Kimbrel. But Young was their only offensive upgrade.
While Upton has had some consistency issues, he’s also been very productive offensively, and he’s a good outfielder. One National League executive said, “He needs to get away from his brother [Melvin Upton] and be in a lineup where he doesn’t have to be the main guy.”
So, you don’t pay a premium for Justin Upton, but if his price comes down, is he someone the Red Sox could swoop in and get?
One of his former coaches said of Upton, “He’s really a good kid who is a threat every time he steps to the plate. He’s a decent outfielder, not great, but left field at Fenway would be a piece of cake for him, and he’d work. Don’t equate him with Hanley Ramirez. This kid will work and he’ll produce. I know he was on his way to being an explosive player when he was younger, and I think he still has that in him.”
No one knows whether Castillo will blossom. He’s 28, the same age as Upton. One executive who scouted him during the Red Sox’ courtship doesn’t believe Castillo will work out like the Sox thought. That’s not earth-shattering news, but at least the Red Sox have brought in Young and could move Travis Shaw to left field if things don’t work out.
Bradley is tremendous defensively. But his offense is still in doubt. Among batters with at least 100 plate appearances last September, Bradley ranked 140th, hitting .216. Castillo, even with his speed, hit into 11 double plays in 55 opportunities.
|Jackie Bradley Jr.||.249||.335||10||43|
There’s a limit to how much money the Red Sox can spend. They are already over the luxury tax threshold of $189 million. There’s no perfect team. But in an offensive division, the Red Sox could use a little more oomph in their outfield. We think Betts will only get better, and maybe hit for more power. But he’s the only sure thing offensively in the Red Sox outfield. And with questions at first base (Ramirez) and third base (Pablo Sandoval), there’s a power shortage that could need addressing.
While nobody wants to dish out a Jason Heyward-type deal, Upton could easily take a shorter term and then still get back into free agency at a young age. Teams that could jump in include the Tigers, Angels, White Sox, and Orioles.
Apropos of nothing
1. The recent back and forth between former Blue Jays teammates Roy Halladay and Roger Clemens — in which Halladay tweeted that Clemens and Barry Bonds cheated and should never get into the Hall, before Clemens shot back that Halladay took amphetamines — brings up the issue of how we view amphetamines. Obviously, MLB believes amphetamines are PEDs or they wouldn’t be on the list of banned substances, though punishments are less than other PEDs (25 games for a second offense). Many players of yesteryear took them, some boasting there were bowls of them in clubhouses. But nobody holds those players up to the scrutiny of steroid users. Studies have shown that amphetamines help in fending off fatigue and can help you get stronger. It goes to show, every era had something.
2. Another brilliant marketing move by Fenway Sports Group, introducing Tessie as Wally the Green Monster’s sister. It may lessen the appearance load for poor Wally.
3. The 77th annual Boston Baseball Writers’ dinner takes place Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Honorees scheduled to attend include Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Ryan Hanigan, Brock Holt, Torey Lovullo, Yoan Moncada, and Don Orsillo, with more to be announced soon. Tickets include admission to the cocktail reception, dinner, and awards presentation, with a special autograph alley for those under 18. To purchase tickets or to sponsor a table, call 617-624-1231.
4. The Red Sox have hired former Auburn University hitting coach Greg Norton as their minor league hitting coordinator. Norton is a former major league infielder, but his personal story — which was beautifully written by MLB.com’s Mark Bowman in 2009 — includes Norton witnessing the murder of his mother in his home when he was 16. Norton’s mother was strangled to death by his father, Jerry. Norton has earned a strong reputation as a hitting guru and he’ll be charged with coordinating the development of Boston’s minor league hitters.
5. Red Sox scout Gary Hughes, one of the best, is celebrating his 50th year in baseball.
Updates on nine
1. J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant, Mets — Ricciardi has had huge input in the Mets’ acquisitions the past few years. With Paul DePodesta, who Ricciardi hired in Oakland years ago, leaving for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, Ricciardi could take on a bigger role. Ricciardi said general manager Sandy Alderson will have a meeting with his front office this week in New York where duties will be outlined. “I’m very happy for Paul,” Ricciardi said. “He’s so unique in what he brought to the table for us. He’s a big loss, but we feel we have good people in place and some younger kids in our front office that can step in.” Ricciardi, a former Blue Jays GM, said he’s open to anything but that he’s very happy in his scouting/player development role. Ricciardi likes what the Mets have done this offseason. “They weren’t sexy moves, but I think very effective moves,” Ricciardi said. “I think we’ve lengthened our lineup. We have a shortstop [Asdrubal Cabrera] who can hit righthanded pitching. We brought [Bartolo] Colon back. There are still guys out there. Who knows what could happen?”
2. Yovani Gallardo, RHP, free agent — Gallardo seems to be the next significant starter to go in free agency. Gallardo has a few teams interested, each of which are hoping to score a bargain. And it appears the teams are looking for a two- or three-year deal. Scott Kazmir’s recent three-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers could be an indication of what Gallardo could land. Look for the Orioles, Blue Jays, Pirates, Royals, and Cubs to be in on Gallardo.
3. Marcell Ozuna, OF, Marlins — Up to 10 teams have inquired and/or have serious interest. But Marlins executives are getting pushback from new hitting coach Barry Bonds and manager Don Mattingly, feeling they can shape Ozuna into a 30/30 performer. Ozuna has not been a favorite of owner Jeffrey Loria, who feels Ozuna hasn’t come to camp in shape the last two seasons. But while the Marlins could get a haul for him, they are now considering keeping him.
4. Ike Davis, 1B, free agent — Davis will likely be in the Justin Morneau category, unlikely to get a major league deal but likely a spring training invite. Because of injuries and general decline, Davis never got back to his level of 2012, when he hit 32 homers and drove in 90 runs. But some scouts still feel he’s a player who could reemerge. Morneau’s issues are strictly with his concussion history, as the medical reports don’t look great, according to one major league source. But Morneau can still hit, and teams looking for a low-cost player could have interest in bringing him in.
5. Wei-Yin Chen, LHP, free agent — One of the surprises among remaining free agents. The five-year, $100 million asking price has turned teams away, but the Nationals and Cardinals have taken a good hard look.
6. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, free agent — The Tigers could try to get Cespedes back. The Mets could do something if Cespedes doesn’t have anything else, getting him at a lower term than the $150 million or so over six years being bandied. One major league source indicated that Cespedes is a hot topic within the Tigers organization and the reaction is split.
7. Dexter Fowler, OF, free agent — Fowler could wind up being one of the real bargains of the free agent class. He’s likely not getting the three-year, $31 million deal Denard Span got, but he should get a three-year deal. Hard to see where he fits, but if the Rockies trade Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez, you could see a fit there. The Tigers could also bite.
8. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers — Lucroy is a player the Brewers could deal for young players. A leader and a guy who brings a great attitude to the field every day, Lucroy could be a real get for a contending team such as the Rangers or Nationals, who could benefit from his offense as well as someone who could handle the pitching staff. The Brewers have begun their transformation to a younger team under new GM David Stearns. Lucroy, 29, has two years remaining on his contract at team-friendly salaries ($4 million in 2016 and a $5.25 million option for 2017). The Brewers would also be open to dealing Ryan Braun, whose five-year, $105 million extension kicks in this season. While $105 million isn’t a lot these days for a premium player, Braun has had injuries, including offseason back surgery, that seem to make him an unlikely candidate to be traded.
9. Chris Davis, 1B, free agent — All indications are that negotiations with the Orioles are at the ownership level with agent Scott Boras. Owner Peter Angelos wants Davis aboard, but he’ll draw the line. It’s not known if Davis has anything else on the table, because if he does it’s been kept quiet. The Orioles appear to have a drop-dead date in mind, and while they’d prefer a lefthanded bat, they could turn to Justin Upton or Cespedes. Don’t rule out a deal between the Orioles and Rockies for Gonzalez, either. While he’s seen as a Coors Field hitter, Gonzalez would likely put up big numbers in Camden Yards. A sleeper team for Davis? The Tigers. He could play left field.
From the Bill Chuck files — “In 2014, Salvador Perez hit .260 with 70 RBIs and one stolen base. In 2015, Perez hit .260 with 70 RBIs and one stolen base” . . . Also, “There are only two players with at least 25 homers each of the last five seasons: Jose Bautista and Adam Jones. Bautista is the only one each of the last six years.” . . . Happy birthday on Monday to Alex Delgado (45) and Hank Fischer (76).
Why not Billy Wagner?
Trevor Hoffman got 67.3 percent of votes in his first time on the Hall of Fame ballot, just 7.7 percent short of becoming the seventh closer to earn a place at Cooperstown. It’s no surprise — Hoffman’s 601 saves rank second to Mariano Riviera and he is a strong candidate to be inducted next year. But a case can be made that Billy Wagner, who received only 10.5 percent in his first time on the ballot, was equally if not more deserving.