Looking ahead to next year’s Hall of Fame ballot

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We’re less than 24 hours removed from the 2016 Hall of Fame class being announced but, hey, why not look ahead to next year’s ballot?

Yesterday we talked about three guys knocking on the door: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman. Beyond them were other gainers like Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez and Curt Schilling. All of them and others will be back, but here are the most notable guys joining them, in no particular order:

Manny Ramirez: He’d be a no-brainer if he didn’t brainlessly take PEDs after the testing regime was firmly in place. As it is, two drug suspensions will obliterate his candidacy, perhaps even more than PEDs harmed the candidacies of guys like McGwire, Bonds and Clemens. Those guys did their dirty work before testing was in place. Manny was caught after, and many will consider that to be more serious and culpable transgression. That aside, he played 19 seasons for the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox and Rays. He was a 12-time All-Star, played for two World Series winners and smashed 555 home runs.

Ivan Rodriguez: “Pudge” was considered the best defensive catcher of his era and, perhaps, the best defensive catcher of all time. He hit fantastically too, hitting over 300 homers, posting a career average of nearly .300 and driving in over 1,300 runs. He has an MVP Award in his back pocket and was a key member of the 2003 World Series champion Marlins. I suspect he’ll get in eventually, but I likewise suspect that he’ll have to wait a bit, not unlike Piazza and Biggio due to unsubstantiated PED rumors. If you loved “Mike Piazza’s back acne,” you’ll LOVE “Ivan Rodriguez’s weight loss!”

Vlad Guerrero: A bit of a short peak and a bit of a short career for a Hall of Famer, having played sixteen seasons for the Expos, Angels, Rangers and Orioles. Still, it was some peak. He was a nine-time All-Star, the 2004 AL MVP, has a World Series ring, (sorry: brain cramp) had a career .318 average, .379 on-base percentage, hit 449 home runs, drove in 1,496 RBI and, in his prime, was one of the best defensive outfielders with one of the greatest arms anyone has ever seen. He’s an interesting case vote-wise. I think, if anything, the time he played in relative obscurity in Montreal will help his case as, over the years, Vlad’s exploits have become the stuff of legend far more quickly than that of many of his contemporaries. There’s an air about him, I feel, that he was even greater than his numbers suggest. I go back and forth on that. He was great, but he did have some flaws in his game and his defense and stuff did fall off quickly. I’d vote for him. I think he stands the best chance of the newbies to make it in next year, but he’s not necessarily a mortal lock.

Jorge Posada: All 17 years for the Yankees and a World Series ring for every finger of one hand. A better hitter than you may remember, with a line of .273/.374/.474, 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI. If you go by WAR — which is problematic, but just for the sake of argument — he comes in 13th, just ahead of a lot of catchers who didn’t make the Hall but probably should’ve. Guys like Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons and the like. Ahead of him: Pudge, Fisk, Carter and guys who are generally thought to be clear Hall of Famers. A tough case. It may be a Jeff Kent-style case in which, unfortunately, Posada becomes the living, breathing dividing line between a Hall of Famer and a non-Hall of Famer. And don’t tell me that East Coast Bias will save him. That didn’t do a heck of a lot for Willie Randolph and Bernie Williams.

Magglio Ordonez: He’s not getting in, but it’s fun to remember him. A 15-year career between the White Sox and Tigers in which he was a six-time All-Star and one of the better hitters around. Most notably: I can’t think of many players who could be fan favorites for both the Sox and the Tigers. Everyone loved Magglio.

Jason Varitek: A lot of baseball writers will spill a lot of ink talking about how great a career he had and how great a guy he was before ultimately not voting for him. Considered by many to be the heart-and-soul of the 2004 and 2007 World Series-winning Red Sox, he got on base at a decent clip for a guy who didn’t hit for average, had some pop, had that little “C” on his jersey and once shoved his mitt in Alex Rodriguez‘s face, endearing him to millions. That’s fun, that’s interesting, but that’s not a Hall of Fame case.

There are many other fun “oh my God, how has he been retired that long?” names that will appear on next year’s ballot. Melvin Mora. Javier Vasquez. Tim Wakefield. Edgar Renteria. But no one else who is likely to get serious consideration.

Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz remains upbeat as rehab from broken left ankle nears midway point

oneil cruz rehab
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PITTSBURGH — Oneil Cruz slowly made his way on crutches across the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse on Saturday toward a locker replete with a massive walking boot that the towering shortstop still uses to protect the left ankle he broke during an awkward slide home in early April.

The days when he’ll need to rely on the crutches are numbered. Ditto for the walking boot. The 24-year-old’s recovery remains on track, meaning he could return sometime late this summer barring any setbacks.

Given the way Cruz’s left leg rolled up underneath him as he collided with Chicago White Sox catcher Seby Zavala in the sixth inning of what became a 1-0 victory, Cruz will take it. He had surgery the next day and the team optimistically said it expected him to miss four months, a timeline it has not deviated from as his rehab reaches the halfway point.

“You never want to get hurt, obviously, but that’s part of the game and it happens to me,” Cruz said through a translator. “I’m just going to take it the way it is and get better as soon as possible.”

The Pirates have found a way to remain in contention in the NL Central even without their leadoff hitter and one of the more physically intriguing young players in the majors, one prone to testing the limits of StatCast. Pittsburgh entered play on Saturday at 29-27, a half-game back of Milwaukee for first place in a division where no one has been able to run away and hide.

The club has used a handful of players at short to fill in for Cruz, from Rodolfo Castro to Tucupita Marcano to Ji Hwan Bae to Chris Owings. None of them possess Cruz’s unique mix of size, power and speed. Yet they’ve been solid enough to help soften what could have been a devastating early blow to a club that is trying to climb back into relevance following consecutive 100-loss seasons.

Cruz has leaned on his wife and his children to help ease the mental sting of the first major injury of his still-young career. Watching longtime teammates Castro and Marcano – who came up through the minors with Cruz – have some level of success has helped. The duo is hitting a combined .264 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs.

“Every time I see them doing well, it makes me happy,” Cruz said.

Still, they understand they are placeholders for Cruz, who was poised to take a significant step forward following a tantalizing rookie season in which both highlights that quickly went viral on social media – and strikeouts – were plentiful. He worked seven walks in his nine games of the season, showing the kind of patience at the plate that was difficult to come by in 2022.

Cruz believes he is poised to come back stronger than he was when he went down, and the Pirates have been adamant that the hope is he returns this season no matter where the team is in the standings whenever he comes off the 60-day injured list.

While he’s eager to get back he’s also not trying to force things, saying several times he will stick to the recommendations of the medical staff. He has remained engaged, not missing a game of Pittsburgh’s somewhat uneven – the Pirates started on a 20-8 tear followed by an 8-18 skid through May – but overall promising start.

There are also no concerns – at least at this point – about any sort of lingering memories of the slide that derailed his season haunting him during his rehab.

“I should be good when I get out there because when I go out there I understand I’m not going to hesitate,” Cruz said. “I’m just going to go out there and do my best.”

Cruz’s appearance at PNC on Saturday coincided with the team giving out thousands of bobbleheads in his likeness.

Asked if the trinkets bear at least a passing resemblance to him, Cruz laughed.

“They did real good,” he joked. “Ugly, like me.”