SweetSpot: Manny Ramirez

Throughout July, we're presenting 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade-deadline deal ever made by each team. We wrap up with the NL West.

THE TEAM: Los Angeles Dodgers

THE YEAR: 2008

THE SITUATION: Tired of Manny Ramirez complaining about wanting a new contract and his lack of hustle, the Red Sox were shopping the outfielder as the trade deadline approached, even though they were just a couple of games out in the AL East. They reportedly came close to a deal with the Marlins, who decided not to give up Class A outfielder Mike Stanton.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, were a game out of first place after winning on July 30 but were looking to upgrade their outfield, where Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre were in a center-/left-field platoon but were not producing (Jones would hit .158 on the season). After the Marlins deal didn't work out, the Red Sox, Pirates and Dodgers engineered a three-team deal on July 31.

THE TRADE: The Dodgers acquired Ramirez from the Red Sox, trading prospects Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris to the Pirates. The Pirates sent Jason Bay to the Red Sox for Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen.

THE AFTERMATH: Ramirez went on a tear after joining the Dodgers, hitting .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 games. Ramirez was worth 3.5 WAR for the Dodgers, who ended up winning the NL West by just two games over the Diamondbacks. His two-month stint was so impressive that he finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. Considering the prospects the Dodgers gave up haven't done much -- although Morris is finally a member of the Pirates' bullpen this year -- it's exactly what you want out of a deadline trade, a guy who made the difference in making the playoffs, without giving up much in return.

The Dodgers would beat the Cubs in the division series before losing to the Phillies in the NLCS. Ramirez hit .520 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in eight postseason games. The next year, Ramirez again helped the Dodgers reach the NLCS.

Bay helped the Red Sox reach the playoffs in 2008 and 2009.
When the New York Mets traded Tom Seaver to the Reds on June 15, 1977, Mets fans were so upset they tried to organize a boycott of home games until Seaver would return to Shea Stadium with the Reds in August.

The boycott never materialized, but the fans had a right to be upset. The four young players the Mets received for Seaver -- Steve Henderson, Pat Zachry, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman -- never developed into anything more than minor contributors and the Mets would average 97 losses in nonstrike seasons from 1977 to 1983.

The Seaver deal remains one of the most shocking deadline deals in baseball history. Even though everyone knew Seaver was at odds with Mets management over a new contract and the state of the team, nobody really expected the Mets to trade their franchise icon. That's what makes the trade deadline so exciting -- even if a big name is central to trade rumors, we don't know where the player will land.

The trade deadline was later moved from June 15 to July 31 in 1986, resulting in more deadline trades than occurred with the earlier date. Here are the five biggest blockbusters to happen in July -- not necessarily the best trades, but the ones with the biggest names in deals that sent shock waves through baseball land.

5. July 31, 1997: A's trade Mark McGwire to the Cardinals for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Mathews and Blake Stein.

Why the trade: The A's were floundering in the post-Bash Brothers era, Tony La Russa was already in St. Louis and McGwire was an impending free agent. The A's needed to rebuild and everyone knew they were shopping McGwire, but would they have the guts to trade him in a season in which he had a chance to break Roger Maris' home run record? Yes, they would. The surprising part was the destination: The Cardinals were 51-56 at the time of the trade, 7½ games out of first place and even further behind in the wild-card standings.

Quote: "What I hope is the fans understand we're trying to rebuild this team to a contending level and that sometimes calls for hard decisions." -- A's general manager Sandy Alderson

What happened: McGwire had 34 home runs for the A's but went on a tear with St. Louis, slamming 24 home runs in 51 games to finish with 58, three short of Maris' record. McGwire wouldn't test free agency but would instead sign a three-year deal with the Cards and break Maris' record the next year. The three pitchers the A's acquired never did much.

Similar player today: Let's see: Franchise icon, one of the game's premier power hitters … maybe somebody like the Red Sox trading David Ortiz.

4. July 9, 2010: Mariners trade Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe to the Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson.

Why the trade: Lee had won the AL Cy Young Award with the Indians in 2008 and then dominated in the 2009 postseason with the Phillies, going 4-0 in five starts with a 1.56 ERA. The Phillies inexplicably traded him to the Mariners that winter, but the Mariners were awful and Lee's ability and postseason performance made him the hot commodity on the trade market. The Rangers were in first place on July 9, but hadn't made the playoffs since 1999 and needed an ace to lead the rotation. The Mariners were close to a deal with the Yankees for Jesus Montero -- reports said Yankees GM Brian Cashman had actually called Lee to say a deal was imminent -- before the Rangers relented and finally included rookie first baseman Smoak. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik didn't seem concerned about trading within the division.

Quote: "We had ongoing talks with several clubs. And at the end, when you're finished and you go another direction, before you consummate a deal, you always go back and tell the other club, 'Hey, look, this is the direction we're going, this is the decision we made.'" -- Zduriencik

What happened: Lee went only 4-6 down the stretch with the Rangers, but Texas won the division easily. Lee really earned his keep in the postseason, beating Tampa Bay twice in the division series and beating the Yankees with eight shutout innings in the ALCS. He did lose both his World Series starts, but the Rangers at least got there for the first time in franchise history. The transformation of the Rangers into one of the big players in MLB was helped by that World Series appearance -- helped by a division rival. As for the Mariners … Smoak owns a .230 career average.

Similar player today: Cliff Lee?

3. July 31, 2004: In a four-team trade, the Red Sox trade Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and acquire Orlando Cabrera from the Expos and Doug Mientkiewicz from the Twins.

Why the trade: It's easy now to forget how popular Garciaparra was in Boston, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000 and driving in 105 runs in 2003, when the Red Sox fell one game short of the World Series. But there were reports that Garciaparra was unhappy in Boston and the Red Sox had come close to an offseason deal that would have sent him to the Dodgers or White Sox and brought Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox. General manager Theo Epstein was also interested in improving the team's defense, and Cabrera would be an upgrade there. Official news of the deal didn't come down until an hour after the deadline.

Quote: "I think as far as Nomar goes, maybe it was good. Give him some time to clear his head. Sometimes starting over is not so bad. He's going to a great place to play, just like Boston. Now what we need to do is get our team headed in the right direction and I think we have a good chance to do that." -- Red Sox manager Terry Francona

What happened: The Red Sox were 56-46 at the time of the trade, 8½ games behind the Yankees and a game out of the wild-card lead. They would go 42-18 after the trade and while they didn't catch the Yankees they would ride that momentum to a World Series crown. Cabrera hit .294, drove in 31 runs in 58 games and played excellent defense. The Cubs were 1½ games out of the wild card but would fall three games short of the playoffs. Garciaparra hit .297 with 20 RBIs in 43 games, missing some time with an injury (he'd never be completely healthy again).

Similar player today: Popular player, injury risk, impending free agent … how about Chase Utley?

2. July 31, 2008: In a three-team deal, the Red Sox trade Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and acquire Jason Bay from the Pirates.

Why the trade: The Red Sox were in second place behind the Rays, a game ahead of the Yankees and Twins in the wild-card race, but had grown tired of Manny's act, which had included a fight with teammate Kevin Youkilis, a physical altercation with the team's traveling secretary and, most damaging, several instances in late July of not running out ground balls, perhaps in protest of his contract situation. The Dodgers were 54-53, but just one game behind the Diamondbacks in the NL West. The Red Sox and Marlins were in heated talks, but Boston couldn't pry Class A slugger Mike Stanton away from the Marlins. The Pirates were then brought in, sending two-time All-Star Bay to Boston and receiving prospects Brandon Moss, Craig Hansen, Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris from the Dodgers and Red Sox in a deal consummated at "3:59 and seconds," according to Pirates GM Neal Huntington (in other words, just before the 4 p.m. ET deadline).

Quote: "The Red Sox don't deserve a player like me. During my years here, I've seen how [the Red Sox] have mistreated other great players when they didn't want them to try to turn the fans against them. The Red Sox did the same with guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, and now they do the same with me. Their goal is to paint me as the bad guy. I love Boston fans, but the Red Sox don't deserve me. I'm not talking about money. Mental peace has no price, and I don't have peace here." -- Manny Ramirez, just before deadline day

What happened: Hitting .299/.398/.529 with Boston, Ramirez heated up with the Dodgers, hitting .411 in August and .396/.489/.743 over his two months with the team, carrying the Dodgers to the NL West title and finishing fourth in the MVP vote despite playing just 53 games in the National League. He also got the Dodgers to drop two team options for 2009 and 2010 (although he would end up re-signing with the club). The Dodgers upset the Cubs in the division series but lost to the Phillies in the NLCS. Bay played well with the Red Sox, who lost Game 7 of the ALCS, and hit 36 home runs the following season. As for the Pirates … well, LaRoche was the big prospect but didn't pan out and only Morris still remains with the organization.

Similar player today: Veteran slugger who had fallen from grace … sounds sort of like Alex Rodriguez, if A-Rod were healthy and hitting.

1. July 31, 1998: Mariners trade Randy Johnson to the Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama.

Why the trade: The Mariners had won the division title in 1997 but hadn't signed Johnson, an impending free agent who had made it clear he wasn't returning to Seattle. They first shopped him around in the offseason, reportedly turning down a Mariano Rivera offer from the Yankees because a "Mariner official also said there are concerns about Rivera's arm. There were suspicions the 27-year-old right-hander had shoulder trouble late in the season."

Anyway, the Astros were in first place but looking for another starter to complement Mike Hampton, Shane Reynolds and Jose Lima.

Quote: "It's hard to believe, but there was very little interest in Randy Johnson." -- Mariners general manager Woody Woodward. Really, Woody?

What happened: The trade was widely panned, especially in Seattle, where Ken Griffey Jr. said "I was ordered not to say anything." In Houston, manager Larry Dierker seemed critical, as well, suggesting the team was sacrificing the future for the present. Well, Johnson was dominant for the Astros, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA in 11 starts, but the Astros would lose in the division series to the Padres. Garcia would be better than advertised (the Mariners had wanted Scott Elarton) and he, Guillen and Halama would help the Mariners to the playoffs in 2000 and 2001.

Similar player today: Imagine a taller Clayton Kershaw with longer hair and a harder fastball and meaner scowl. In other words, the best lefty in the game.

Honorable mention: David Cone to the Yankees (1995); CC Sabathia to the Brewers (2008); Fred McGriff to the Braves (1993); Curt Schilling to the Diamondbacks (2000); Mark Teixeira to the Braves (2007); Scott Rolen to the Cardinals (2002).
video Miguel Cabrera leads the American League in batting average (.382) and RBIs (37) as he tries to go for another Triple Crown. It seems unfair to even suggest that would be possible, but if he goes on a home run tear at some point, I wouldn't put it past him.

So let's talk 10 things about Miggy as he lights up scoreboards across the country.

1. How awesome would three batting titles in a row be?
By "batting title" we mean batting average, so if this isn't your cup of Earl Grey, skip to the next section. The following players have won three titles in a row: Tony Gwynn (1994-97), Tony Gwynn (1987-89), Wade Boggs (1985-88), Rod Carew (1972-75), Stan Musial (1950-52), Rogers Hornsby (1920-25), Ty Cobb (1917-19), Ty Cobb (1911-15), Ty Cobb (1907-09), Honus Wagner (1906-09) and Nap Lajoie (1901-04). Gwynn, Boggs, Carew and Musial were all left-handed batters, so the last right-handed batter to do it was Hornsby almost 90 years ago. The only right-handed batters since World War II to win at least three batting titles in their career are Bill Madlock and Roberto Clemente, who each won four. So, yes, pretty awesome.

2. Does he really have a shot at the single-season RBI record?
Not really. With 37 RBIs in 32 games, Cabrera is on pace for 187, four shy of Hack Wilson's record set with the Cubs in 1930. But it would take a Herculean effort to even approach Wilson's mark, set in an era of high batting averages and high on-base percentages. Since 1950, only nine times has a player driven in 150 runs, with Manny Ramirez's 165 in 1999 the most. The Tigers rank only 15th in OBP from the leadoff spot (.335) but first in OBP from the No. 2 slot (.419), so even if Austin Jackson starts getting on more, Torii Hunter will probably get on less.

As is, Cabrera is second in the majors (behind teammate Prince Fielder) for the most runners on base while batting and is hitting .533 with runners in scoring position. I mean, he's good, but I'm pretty sure he won't .533 with RISP all season. Wilson hit .356 while batting cleanup for the Cubs in 1930, but one big advantage compared to Cabrera was he hit 56 home runs, so he drove in himself a lot. Plus, he played on a team that scored 998 runs, so he had many more RBI opportunities than Cabrera likely will receive -- Cubs leadoff hitters had a .332 OBP in 1930, but the No. 2 guys had a .425 OBP and the No. 3 hitters were at .424. That's a lot of baserunners to knock in.

3. He is durable. That should help.
True. Wilson missed just one game in 1930, and Cabrera's most underrated asset is his durability. He may have a body by red meat, but check out his games played since his first full season: 160, 158, 158, 157, 160, 160, 150, 161, 161. The only prolonged time he's missed was the final week of 2010, when he sprained an ankle.

4. What makes him so scary right now?
For one thing, Cabrera has adapted his swing in recent seasons. Compare the hit charts below from 2009 versus 2012-13. Now, he was still plenty awesome in 2009, hitting .324 with 34 home runs, but nearly all his home runs were pulled. Now he's more willing to take the ball the other way -- but still has the power to hit it out. His line-drive percentage right now is 26 percent -- more than 4 percent higher than last year. It's possible he's still getting better at the plate.

Cabrera Hit Chart ESPN Stats & InformationMiguel Cabrera's home runs don't just go over the left-field fence anymore, as most did in 2009.
5. Does he have a weakness?
Believe it or not, Cabrera struggles with pitches "up" in the zone. He's hitting .200/.400/.200 this year against pitches classified as such (36 plate appearances); last year, he hit .208/.453/.429. The trouble with pitching up in the zone is that you're also more likely to walk him. And if you miss too low, you're right in his wheelhouse. And Cabrera doesn't miss those pitches.

6. Remember skinny Miggy?
Of course, Cabrera has been a devastating hitter for years, going back to his Marlins days. Cabrera made his debut with the Marlins on June 20, 2003, and was 0-for-4 when he stepped up in the bottom of the 11th against Tampa Bay's Al Levine with a runner on. Levine threw a first-pitch fastball, and Cabrera crushed the ball over the fence in center field. He might have been 40 pounds lighter than now, but he always had the raw power. He also knew how to hit. "They got me out the first four times, but I told myself they are throwing a lot of fastballs, so I am going to look for a first-pitch fastball," he said after that debut blast.

Cabrera played left field and batted eighth that game. By the World Series he was batting cleanup.

7. OK, where does Cabrera rank among all-time right-handed batters?
Right now he's playing his age-30 season. He has 327 home runs, which ranks 11th -- more than Willie Mays had through age 30 but fewer than Andruw Jones or Juan Gonzalez. He's fifth in RBIs, behind only Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Hank Aaron, and is a good bet to pass Aaron and maybe Pujols (70 behind).

8. Those are old-school stats. What about some of your fancy sabermetric stuff?
OK, let's look at OPS+ from Baseball-Reference.com -- a player's on-base plus slugging percentage, but adjusted for park and era. Cabrera doesn't fare quite as well there, with an OPS+ of 152, 16th-best since 1901, and behind Frank Thomas, Pujols, Jeff Bagwell, Ramirez and Mike Piazza, among more recent players (although better than A-Rod). Remember, the early part of Cabrera's career still came in the high-scoring period, which really didn't end until about 2008, when offensive numbers started dropping.

Using the wRC+ stat from FanGraphs, Cabrera ranks 19th among right-handed batters since 1901.


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This makes Cabrera elite, but not necessarily a more valuable hitter than others we've seen in the past two decades. He can't match the on-base percentage that Thomas (.443) or Pujols (.426) posted through age 30, for example. (Cabrera is at .396). Even compared to Ramirez, Miggy's career-best slugging percentages have been .622 and .606 while Manny had seasons of .697, .663, .647 and .609 through age 30, plus three more above .600 after turning 30.

9. Does he have a shot at Aaron's career RBI record?
Definitely possible. Cabrera stands at at 1,160; Aaron had 2,297, so he's 1,137 away. That's how amazing Aaron was: Cabrera has recorded 100-plus RBIs nine seasons in a row and is barely halfway to Aaron's total. You can do the math pretty easily: Cabrera needs to average 114 RBIs for 10 seasons to catch him. Including this year, that takes him through age 39. Like Aaron, he'll have to remain productive and durable until he reaches 40.

10. Does he win the MVP award again?
Well, the voters do love them some RBIs, so I'd have to say he's the favorite right now.
Fans in Kaohsiung, Taiwan welcome Manny Ramirez in his first game for the EDO Rhinos. Except the picture on their placard is Johnny Cueto.

Manny RamirezMandy Cheng/AFP/Getty ImagesWe love you, Manny! But we'd really rather have Johnny Cueto!

Manny homers in Dominican debut

November, 19, 2012
Manny Ramirez homered in his first at-bat with the Aguilas Cibaeñas, which also welcomed Joaquin Arias this week to make a move on the Estrellas Orientales for the top spot in the standings as the Dominican Winter League heads into the second half of its regular season.

Ramirez, playing in the Dominican League for the first time in 17 years, homered on the first pitch he saw from Escogido Leones starter Daniel Cabrera, the league’s ERA leader, and has since gone 4-for-10 in three games.

An apparent ankle sprain forced him to the bench for the weekend, but Ramirez is scheduled to return on Tuesday, when the Aguilas take on the Licey Tigres, a team which showed promise early but has since plummeted to the bottom of the standings.

Despite productive starts from Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon and Mike Olt, who figures prominently in the Texas Rangers’ plans, Licey has not prospered as its pitching staff has given up 231 hits and 148 runs in 24 games. The only bright spot has been New York Yankees minor leaguer Juan Cedeno, who has two of Licey’s eight wins, both coming out of the bullpen.

But the story thus far this season has been the Estrellas’ bullpen, especially the left-right combination of Rommie Lewis and Jerry Gil. Lewis, who pitched in independent league ball this summer in Bridgeport, Conn., after spending part of 2010 and 2011 with the Blue Jays, is 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA while Gil, who was 7-1 at Triple-A Las Vegas for the Blue Jays in 2012, is 1-0 with six saves as he hopes to audition for a bullpen role with the new-look Blue Jays in the spring.

Offensively, the Estrellas have been relying on Junior Lake, who continues to lead the league in hitting with a .342 average, just slightly higher than the Aguilas’ Hector Luna, who is hitting .337.

Elsewhere in the league, the defending champion Escogido Leones announced that Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana will enter regular-season play on Nov. 25.

Wrigley fueling Caracas’ run to the top
Tampa Bay Rays prospect Henry Wrigley has had an impressive week for the Caracas Leones to help his team climb in the standings and put his name atop every offensive category.

Wrigley, who has played both the outfield and first base (positions in which the Rays have gaping holes), is leading the Venezuelen League in hits and RBIs, is tied for the lead in home runs with Philadelphia Phillies prospect Darin Ruf, and is eighth in average at .331.

His offense, along with the bats of Josh Kroeger and Brandon Barnes, is a key reason the Leones, after faltering early, are within three games of the lead, currently held by the Magallanes Navegantes.

Magallanes, which has counted on solid offensive output from Carlos Maldonado, Eliezer Alfonso and veteran minor leaguer Chris Nowak, acquired Victor Zambrano over the weekend in a trade with the Anzoategui Caribes to bolster the starting rotation, currently led by Sergio Perez, Gustavo Chacin and Eric Junge.

Meanwhile, the Zulia Aguilas remain a game and a half off the pace mainly due to the league’s best offense led by Freddy Galvis, Jose Flores and Ernesto Mejia. Through 30 games, the Aguilas are batting a collective .287 with an on-base percentage of .351.

Culiacan relinquishes lead in Mexican League
The Culiacan Tomateros, who started the season on a 10-game win streak, lost 13 of 20 games and now find themselves in second place behind the surging Guasave Algodoneros, who capitalized on the power from Issmael Salas, the speed of Gil Velazquez and the entrance of Antonio Lamas into play to take over first place.

Salas, once a Chicago Cubs prospect and currently a Mexican Summer League mainstay, has clubbed eight homers with 23 RBIs while Velazquez is hitting .321 with seven stolen bases. Lamas is hitting .361 in his last 13 games with a 1.078 OPS. Also contributing to Guasave’s run up the standings are Chris Colabello and Baltimore Orioles prospect Zelous Wheeler, hitting .349 and .346, respectively.

Meanwhile, former Cincinnati Reds prospect Jesse Gutierrez is keeping the Hermosillo Naranjeros in the fight for the playoffs almost single-handedly by making a run at the Mexican League triple crown along with Obregon’s Barbaro Canizares and Culiacan’s Cory Aldridge.

Gutierrez and Aldridge are tied for the league lead in homers with 12 to Canizares’ 10, but Canizares is leading the league in RBIs with 30, while Gutierrez and Aldridge have 26 apiece.

Yasiel Puig makes his debut in Puerto Rico
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ highly-touted outfield prospect Yasiel Puig -- a Cuban defector who signed a seven-year, $42 million deal and is considered to have similar tools as Yoenis Cespedes -- suited up for the Mayaguez Indios and is expected to play until at least the end of the regular season in January.

Puig hit .354 in 23 games between the Arizona Rookie League and Class A Rancho Cucamonga this summer and was expected to play in the Arizona Fall League, but an injured right elbow kept him from action.

Also making his debut in Puerto Rico this week was former Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels starter Scott Kazmir, who threw four innings of shutout baseball for the Carolina Gigantes against the Ponce Leones.

Winter leagues: Manny expected to play

November, 4, 2012
Freddy Galvis, who last spring played his way onto the Philadelphia Phillies' Opening Day starting lineup, is off to an eye-opening start in Venezuela as he tries to come back from back surgery and his suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

In his first 19 games with the Zulia Aguilas, Galvis is hitting .342 with three homers and nine RBIs, a sign that he is recovered from his season-ending injury that kept him from returning from his 50-day suspension last August. Galvis hit just .226 for the Phillies in April and May as he filled in for the injured Chase Utley at second base.

Meanwhile, Dodgers outfield prospect Scott Van Slyke is finding his power stroke with the La Guaira Tiburones, hitting seven homers in his first 18 games. While that may be impressive, teammate Darin Ruf, a legitimate candidate for an outfield job with the Phillies after a 2012 season in which he hit 38 homers at Double-A Reading, has nine homers and 18 RBIs through 19 games with La Guaira.

Another Phillies prospect enjoying his winter in Venezuela is relief pitcher Justin Friend, who is 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 11 games for La Guaira thus far this season.

Gordon, Marte, Luna start hot in the Dominican

A slew of veteran Dominican players seeking to revive their careers, led by Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada, have flooded the Dominican Winter League this season, but it is the upstart youngsters who are thrilling the crowds.

Dee Gordon, Starling Marte and Hector Luna are off to flying starts offensively while Colorado Rockies pitcher Josh Outman has been the surprise of the league, yielding just two runs in his first 15 innings as a starter with the Toros del Este in a rotation that also includes Atlanta Braves pitcher Jairo Asencio.

Luna, who played 28 games for the Phillies in 2012, is off to a 17-for-44 start with the Aguilas Cibaeñas while Gordon is batting .326 in his first three games with the Licey Tigres. After a disappointing season with the Dodgers, Gordon is trying to impress the club with a strong winter ball season.

Marte, who dazzled in his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates this summer, made his debut with the defending champion Escogido Leones and went 5-for-13 in his first three games.

The league this year is also serving as a refresher course for some prospects who didn’t perform as expected over the summer. Atlanta’s Tyler Pastornicky, Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon and Cincinnati’s Denis Phipps were on opening day rosters and are looking to hone skills for spring training as they’re projected to compete for major league roster spots.

Veteran hitters Fernando Tatis and Timo Perez have also returned while it is expected that Manny Ramirez will don the Aguilas Cibaeñas uniform this week as he seeks a return to the majors.

Cañizares leads Obregón’s attack in Mexican Pacific League

Former Cuban national team member and Atlanta Braves prospect Barbaro Cañizares, who last winter set a new single-season home run record, is on pace to break his own record having belted seven through his first 19 games with the defending champion Ciudad Obregon Yaquis.

Cañizares, 32, had hoped his revamped power stroke earned him a spring training invite last winter but since it did not materialize, he played in the Mexican Summer League with the Oaxaca Guerreros, batting .348 with 28 homers and 103 RBIs in 107 games, primarily as a first baseman.

Meanwhile, Marlon Byrd, trying to salvage his career after getting released by the Red Sox in June, is off and running through 19 games with the Culiacán Tomateros. Byrd is hitting .386 with a 1.213 OPS while teammate Cory Aldridge is batting .338 with a league-leading 11 homers and 22 RBIs. Aldridge joined the Angels’ Triple-A team in Salt Lake after starting the season in Mexico and was unproductive, hitting only .215 in 73 games.

Puerto Rican League getting ready for opening day

The Puerto Rican League, which last season was pared down to just four teams, will return to its six-team format when the season opens on Nov. 8.

The Santurce Cangrejeros, once an iconic franchise that saw legends Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Satchel Paige don its uniform, will return to play, even if general manager Carlos Baerga can’t finalize negotiations to use San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium as their home field.

Baerga told media that they have "different options," one of them being sharing a stadium with the Carolina Gigantes. The other team that will return is the Manati Atenienses, a franchise once owned by former major leaguer Jose Valentin. Santurce and Manati will join Carolina, Ponce, Arecibo and the defending champion Mayagüez Indios for this season.
Keith Law and I emerged from the long and happy Memorial Day weekend ready to talk baseball, so here’s what is in store for Tuesday’s Baseball Today podcast!

1. Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale piles on the strikeouts Monday, and we discuss this resurgent team and its potential new ace for the long term.

2. We should find out more on Tuesday about the injuries affecting Jered Weaver and Roy Halladay, but how critical would their absences be to their slow-starting teams?

3. Manny Ramirez plies his trade in the minor leagues, but should anyone care? Also, his potential new teammate Josh Reddick continues his power assault. Is it legit?

4. As draft day approaches, what are the Chicago Cubs thinking and why should we trust the organization is on the right track?

5. We also take your emails, discussing minor leaguers like Nolan Arenado, pitch recognition and take a glance at Tuesday’s big league schedule.

So download and listen to Tuesday’s excellent Baseball Today podcast and come back with us on Wednesday!
Albert PujolsAP Photo/Chris CarlsonAlbert Pujols isn't alone among elite hitters who have had prolonged slumps.
The shocking thing about Albert Pujols' start, of course, is that if any player seemed immune to a slump it was him.

After all, this is player who ranks eighth all time in career adjusted OPS, behind seven guys named Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Gehrig, Hornsby, Mantle and Brouthers. (Well, maybe you don't know that last guy. That's Dan Brouthers, who played in the 19th century). Pujols never had a bad month. OK, he did twice hit under .250 in a month -- July of 2001, his rookie season, when he hit .241 but still hit four home runs and had a .793 OPS; and last April, when he hit .245 but slugged seven home runs.

But we're now 24 games into the season and Pujols is homerless with a feeble .208/.255/.292 line. I broke down his issues last week, but I wanted to take another approach. Have other all-time great hitters ever gone through a similar spell while still in their prime seasons? I examined seven of the best post-World War II hitters to see.

Stan Musial
April 15-June 12, 1947: 44 games, .202/.298/.345, 5 HR, 23 BB, 13 SO
Musial didn't quite have the power of Pujols but did top 30 home runs six times. Not surprisingly for a guy who hit .300 for the first 16 seasons of his career, he didn't suffer many dry spells. As it turns out, even his slow start in 1947 was caused by bad health -- appendicitis and tonsillitis.

Willie Mays
April 17-May 13, 1956: 22 games, .209/.303/.384, 3 HR, 11 BB, 8 SO
Mays actually went through a few slumps in his career, unusual for hitters of his caliber. Here's one from the start of the 1956 season. Through 42 games he still had just four home runs. Good news for Angels fans: Mays still finished with 36 home runs as he hit six home runs in both June and July, nine in August and 11 in September.

July 3-Aug. 3, 1958: 30 games, .250/.356/.313, 0 HR, 19 BB, 10 SO
Mays went through a long homerless drought in 1958. Before the drought, he missed two games while hospitalized with fatigue. In fact, going back to May, Mays would hit just three home runs over a 65-game stretch. One big difference between this slump and Pujols' slump: Mays had 19 walks and 10 strikeouts while Pujols has six walks and 14 strikeouts. He'd finish the year hitting .347 with 29 home runs.

May 28-June 25, 1959: 27 games, .265/.318/.367, 1 HR, 8 BB, 8 SO
According James Hirsch's "Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend," Mays battled a couple injuries during his span. On June 1, a home-plate collision with Del Rise left him with bruised shins. Rice broke his leg on the play and Mays left the game. Three days later, Mays hurt his shoulder in another home-plate collision. He played for a few days after that but then missed five games, available only to pinch-hit.

Aug. 28-Sept. 30, 1960: 32 games, .288/.343/.400, 0 HR, 9 BB, 10 SO
Mays hit .319 with 20 home runs in 1960, but only a home run on the final day of the season prevented a homerless September. Still, he managed to hit .288 during this power drought.

April 22-May 15, 1963: 22 games, .244/.330/.329, 1 HR, 11 BB, 10 SO
Now 32 -- the same age as Pujols -- Mays appeared to have just had a slow stretch soon after the season began. He'd still finish with a .314 average and 38 home runs and finish fifth in the MVP vote. Best-case scenario for Pujols?

June 24-July 31, 1965: 22 games, .223/.289/301, 2 HR, 10 BB, 11 SO
One final slump for Mays, but this one was another injury-related one. According to Hirsch's book, Mays pulled groin muscle on June 30 and then bruised his thigh and hip in a home-plate collision on July 10 that forced him to leave the game. Nonetheless, he'd still end up with one of his greatest seasons: a career-high 52 home runs and his second MVP trophy.

Hank Aaron
June 1-June 25, 1956: 28 games, .227/.277/.327, 1 HR, 8 BB, 10 SO
Few players matched the Aaron's consistency. This was just his second full season, still 22 years old. He'd end up winning the batting title that year with a .328 mark.

April 25-May 28, 1958: 31 games, .208/.288/.320 1 HR, 14 BB, 14 SO
Despite this dry spell, Aaron would finish at .326 with 30 home runs.

May 2-June 9, 1968: 32 games, .179/.268/.325, 3 HR, 16 BB, 15 SO
Aaron was 34 by now and 1968 was the famous Year of the Pitcher. Aaron would recover to hit .287 with 29 home runs -- big numbers for that season, as he ranked fifth in the NL in home runs.

Barry Bonds
April 8-May 19, 1991: 31 games, .182/.272/.255, 2 HR, 14 BB, 21 SO

I checked Bonds from 1990 to 1999, and this was the only bad stretch he had. It was likely caused by a bruised thumb that did force him to miss four games in early April and took time to heal.

July 28-Sept. 1, 1995: 33 games, .208/.386/.396, 4 HR, 28 BB, 25 SO
Here's another low-average stretch for Bonds, but even then he hit a few home runs and drew 28 walks in 33 games. Again, that's one big problem Pujols is having: his walk rate has declined significantly.

Manny Ramirez
Sept. 1995: .247/.314/.333, 1 HR in 24 games
Not too many bad months for Ramirez. This one came at the end of his first full season in the majors.

April 2007: 24 games, .202/.314/.315, 2 HR, 15 BB, 15 SO
Another slow stretch. Ramirez would finish with a .296 average and 20 home runs in 133 games.

Alex Rodriguez
Sept. 1999: .183, but seven home runs
June 1-June 26, 2006: 22 games, .213/.351/.325, 2 HR, 15 BB, 24 SO
July 26-August 20, 2010: 20 games, .195/.241/.416, 5 HR, 5 BB, 18 SO

A-Rod has had a few low-average periods in his career, but has usually kept his power intact. That poor 2010 stretch includes various ailments -- hip flexor tendinitis, a bruised shin and a strained calf muscle.

Miguel Cabrera
August 2007: .229/.345/.448, five home runs

Cabrera has essentially been slump-proof so far. This is the worst month on his record and it was still a big spike compared to what Pujols has done.

Why does this all mean? I guess there is enough anecdotal evidence here that even superstar hitters in the prime (or very near their prime) can still have rough stretches for 20-plus games. Look, Pujols isn't going to turn into a .220 hitter overnight. Yes, he's undoubtedly hit into some bad luck so far. Maybe like Willie Mays in 1963 or 1965 he can suffer through this slump and still put up MVP numbers. Hey, it's one reason we watch. Because we don't really know, do we?

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

This is what will have American League pitchers and managers waking up in cold sweats all season long: Those stretches when Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are both raking, eyes bulging as they pummel meaty fastballs over fences and into outfield seats.

Josh Beckett become the first pitcher to experience these forces of nature in action, as both hit two home runs off him in Detroit's 10-0 victory Saturday over Boston. Fielder hit one out to left field and a low, screaming bullet to right for his pair. Going the opposite way is nothing new for him; 11 of his 38 home runs in 2011 went to left or left-center. There were some concerns that Fielder would lose a few home runs moving from Miller Park to the more spacious environs of Comerica, so hitting one out to left is a good, early sign.

How dynamic is this pair? A season ago, Fielder hit .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs; Cabrera hit .344/.448/.586 with 30 home runs. The last team with two players to hit 30 home runs with a .400 OBP? The 2006 Red Sox with Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Twelve teams since 2000 have had such a duo (or in the case of the 2004 Cardinals, three players):

[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonPrince Fielder waves after hitting the first of his two home runs off Boston's Josh Beckett.
2006 Red Sox: Ramirez, Ortiz
2005 Yankees: Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi
2004 Cardinals: Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen
2003 Yankees: Giambi, Jorge Posada
2002 Astros: Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman
2001 Rockies: Todd Helton, Larry Walker
2001 Cardinals: Pujols, Edmonds
2000 Cardinals: Edmonds, Mark McGwire
2000 Angels: Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus
2000 Astros: Bagwell, Moises Alou
2000 Mariners: Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
2000 Giants: Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent

Of course, all of those pairs or threesomes did this during the high-offense steroids period. Six other teammates did it between 1995 and 1999. But before that? That previous team to have two such players was the 1969 Oakland A's with Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. Throughout baseball history there have been only 34 such pairs. Here's another way to do this. Let's add OPS+ (adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage) as a third measuring stick. OPS+ adjusts a player's offensive production for home park and era. In 2011, Cabrera's OPS+ was 181, second in the American League. Fielder's was 164, fourth in the National League. Let's set a minimum of 30 home runs, .400 OBP and 150 OPS+.

This takes away some of steroids-era pairs and leaves us with 24 such teammates in baseball history. And six of those 24 were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

And that, my readers, is the kind of company Cabrera and Fielder have the chance to join.

A few more notes from today's early games:

  • Beckett served up five home runs, sending waves of sweats and swears throughout Red Sox Nation. He became just the fourth pitcher to allow five homers twice in his career, joining Tim Wakefield, Pat Hentgen and Jeff Weaver. Gordon Edes had a good piece on Beckett before his season debut, detailing his motivation for 2012. Beckett is a bit of an enigma, a guy usually viewed as an ace due to his postseason heroics with the Red Sox in 2007 and Marlins in 2003. But the facts also don't lie: He's finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA only twice, including last season with a 2.89 mark. Beckett has been homer-prone at various stages of his career, most notably in his first season with Boston, in 2006, when he gave up 36. It's only one start, of course, but considering the spring training thumb injury he insisted wasn't an injury, it puts Beckett on the early "keep an eye on him" watch list.
  • Angels manager Mike Scioscia picked Game No. 2 to get disgruntled Bobby Abreu in the lineup, putting Abreu in left and moving Vernon Wells to center, sitting defensive whiz Peter Bourjos in the process. "I'm not calling this a day off for Peter, it's the second game, but it's a combination of that and trying to get some left-handed bats in the lineup," Scioscia told Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. I can't imagine a more defensively challenged outfield pair than those two. Unable to see this game since I had the Red Sox-Tigers game as my local Fox broadcast, I tweeted Angels and Royals fans to ask how many of the 11 hits Dan Haren allowed fell just out of their reach. The consensus seemed to be two or three, although @dblesky wrote, "There were really only a couple. And one was glaring." It will be interesting to see how often Scioscia runs out this lineup, essentially to placate Abreu. I just don't see the Angels being a better team with that alignment and Bourjos on the bench.
  • Zack Greinke had a dominant effort in the Brewers' 6-0 shutout over the Cardinals, allowing three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. I wrote this before the game, but here's why Greinke is a good Cy Young pick. Especially impressive were Greinke's economical 91 pitches.
  • Tweet of the day after Daniel Hudson and the Diamondbacks beat the Giants for the second consecutive game:

Podcast: Spring training preview

February, 21, 2012
Pitchers and catchers report this week, and this week's edition of the Baseball Today podcast (with Mark Simon and fill-in guest Steve Berthiaume) touches on everything you could want in a spring training preview.
  • Mark and Steve react to the news of the day. Steve loves the Manny Ramirez signing for the Athletics and wonders what took everyone so long. Mark touts Raul Ibanez's power as a perfect fit for the Yankees.
  • With so many older players in the news, Mark and Steve select an Elderly All-Star Team ... the best players in the majors, 35 and older. The likely soon-to-be-retiree Mariano Rivera heads the class. But Steve has a particularly smart selection for his hitter choice.
  • Mark and Steve run the gamut on spring training question and answer, going through best/worst signings, players to watch and why to watch them, and sleeper team to watch. Steve and Mark both like the same team in the AL Central, with Steve arguing that that team is one player away from being a serious contender. Also, Steve and Mark each have a player to watch that you may have never heard of -- Steve's choice is a Diamondbacks reliever while Mark goes with baseball's best Harvard rep.
  • We only get to one e-mail, but it's a doozy -- the All-Presidents team in honor of President's Day.
  • Mark and Steve each share their thoughts on Gary Carter and Steve provides some baseball book reading for the end of winter. It's all in a 55-minute jam-packed show!

On June 2, assuming none of Oakland's first 50 games are rained out, Manny Ramirez will be eligible to join the A's. He may need a few games in Triple-A to get ready, but signing Ramirez makes Oakland's intention clear: He'll be the club's designated hitter sometime in early June.

The critics will say: Why bring in Ramirez? This team isn't going anywhere, he's not exactly known for his leadership skills and why take away at-bats from young players like Brandon Allen, Chris Carter or Seth Smith?

I say: Why not?

For $500,000, the A's take a flyer on one of the game's all-time great hitters. They'll earn that back with just a few extra ticket sales. Yoenis Cespedes supposedly has said he wants to play with Ramirez, so that helps establish a happy relationship with the highest-paid player on the team; nothing wrong with that. But the big bonus, of course, would be if Ramirez actually hits once he returns. If he does, he becomes possible trade bait for a team looking for a DH or a bat off the bench. So for $500,000, if the A's get lucky, they flip Ramirez for a Grade C prospect. Maybe that prospect becomes somebody who can help the team in a couple of years.

The question, of course, is: Does Ramirez have anything left? He went 1-for-17 with Tampa Bay in 2011 before retiring after testing positive for a PED.

Ramirez turns 40 in May, but it certainly isn't unprecedented for a hitter his age to turn in a big season. Here are the 10 best OPS+ seasons by a 40-year-old (minimum 150 plate appearances):

Willie Mays, 1971 Giants: 158 (.271/.425/.482, 537 PAs)
Carlton Fisk, 1988 White Sox: 155 (.277/.377/.542, 298 PAs)
Jason Giambi, 2011 Rockies: 142 (.260/.355/.603, 152 PAs)
Edgar Martinez, 2003 Mariners: 141 (.294/.406/.489, 603 PAs)
Moises Alou, 2007 Mets: 137 (.341/.392/.524, 360 PAs)
Dave Winfield, 1992 Blue Jays: 137 (.290/.377/.491, 670 PAs)
Harold Baines, 1999 Orioles/Indians: 135 (.312/.387/.533, 486 PAs)
Darrell Evans, 1987 Tigers: 135 (.257/.379/.501, 609 PAs)
Ty Cobb, 1927 A's: 134 (.357/.440/.482, 574 PAs)
Brian Downing, 1991 Rangers: 132 (.278/.377/.455, 476 PAs)

Just missing the list is Jim Thome's 2011 season, when he hit 15 home runs in 277 at-bats. (Barry Bonds missed most of his age-40 season). One thing most of these 40-year-olds had in common: excellent plate discipline. Mays led the league with 112 walks; Martinez drew 92 walks; Winfield drew 82, the second-highest total of his career; Evans had 100 walks; Baines had more walks than strikeouts. Only Alou was a free swinger.

In his last season in 2010, Ramirez hit .298 but drew enough walks to post a .409 on-base percentage. While it would seem unlikely that he could provide the power bat that Thome did a year ago, it's certainly feasible that he could hit .275 with a .375 OBP. That would be enough to make him attractive to a playoff contender at the trade deadline. It's also certainly feasible that he's done and will wash out after two weeks.

For the A's, it's a no-lose situation with little investment needed. And there's this: With Cespedes and Ramirez, the A's may actually be worth checking out in 2012. There's nothing wrong with stirring up a little interest in your club, especially in a rebuilding year.
Some more good stuff from around the SweetSpot network ...
And a few more links from elsewhere ...
Right now, the Oakland A's lineup would appear to look something like this:

2B Jemile Weeks
CF Coco Crisp
LF Seth Smith
3B Scott Sizemore
RF Josh Reddick
1B Brandon Allen
C Kurt Suzuki
SS Cliff Pennington

Of course, I deliberately left the cleanup spot open. The A's have various candidates -- maybe they'll give Chris Carter a shot; Daric Barton is still hanging around, just one season removed from a .393 on-base percentage; they just signed Jonny Gomes.

Anyway, assistant GM David Forst said over the weekend that the club was still open to signing Manny Ramirez, who turns 40 in May.

Now, the reason why the A's would consider the move is clear: Even though he would have to first serve his 50-game suspension, there would be the hope that Ramirez hits well when he returns and the A's could flip him for a little something at the trade deadline. There is also the possibility, I suppose, that Ramirez would bring in a few extra fans to the ballpark, although if the A's want to do that they may as well sign Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.

The reason not do it is pretty clear as well: The A's are going nowhere so why give at-bats to a 40-year-old Ramirez that should go to Allen or Carter or Michael Taylor or some other young player.

While I wouldn't be surprised if Ramirez has something left in the tank -- he did post a .409 OBP in 2010 -- I don't see the A's pulling the trigger on this. Even if Ramirez does hit, you're not going to get much more than a Grade C prospect for a DH-only guy. It may add a little fun to the A's season, but the A's need to be playing their young guys.
Some good stuff from around the SweetSpot network ...
Ben ZobristHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesBen Zobrist had one of the biggest days in baseball history on April 28 with seven hits and 10 RBIs.
On April 22, Ben Zobrist went 0-for-5 in Tampa Bay's 11-inning loss to the Blue Jays, dropping his average to .183. The Rays were struggling at 9-11, Evan Longoria was out with an injury, Manny Ramirez had been suspended for a positive drug test and Felipe Lopez was hitting cleanup. The little team that could was looking more like the team that couldn't hit.

On April 23, Zobrist batted in the cleanup spot and hit a big three-run homer in Tampa's 6-4 victory in Toronto. The next night, Zobrist's two-run homer off Ricky Romero accounted for the only two runs in a 2-0 victory. On April 27, after a day off and a rainout in Minnesota, Zobrist tripled in two runs and added a sac fly in an 8-2 victory over the Twins.

That set the stage for my selection of the top single-game performance of the 2011 season. OK, I admit ... I cheated slightly, as you'll see.

On April 28, in the top of the first inning, Zobrist singled in two runs off Minnesota's Nick Blackburn. In the sixth inning, he blasted a three-run home run to right field off Jim Hoey. In the seventh, Zobrist moved over to the right-side of the plate and drilled a two-run double to deep left field. In the ninth, he hit another two-run double, capping an eight-RBI game.

But Zobrist wasn't done. In the second game of the doubleheader, he went 3-for-4 with a double and a two-run home run. All told, he went 7-for-10 with three doubles, two home runs and 10 RBIs in the doubleheader, joining Jim Bottomley (1929 Cardinals), Pete Fox (1935 Tigers) and Nate Colbert (1972 Padres) as the only players with at least seven hits and 10 RBIs in a single day.

"I really had no idea what was happening," Zobrist said after the second game. "I just was kind of in the zone. Just trying not to think about it too much. I just felt real comfortable, obviously, in the box. The ball was big. I saw the ball big today and put good swings on it. I felt like when I swung the bat, good things were going to happen every time."

The outburst capped an amazing five-game stretch for Zobrist in which he hit four home runs and drove in 18 runs. The Rays won all five games, a key point in their season as they climbed over .500 after starting the season with six consecutive losses.

Zobrist has been one of baseball's underrated stars the past three seasons, a versatile player who excels defensively at second base or right field. He was one of only 16 players in the majors in 2011 with at least 90 RBIs and 90 runs scored. He ranked tied for 10th in the majors in extra-base hits. He might not be widely recognized as a star, but one day he shined brightest.

Honorable mention

  • Chris Carpenter, Cardinals: For his brilliant three-hit, 1-0 shutout against Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5 of the division series. Carpenter only struck out three but threw 110 pitches in the only complete game of the 2011 postseason.
  • Albert Pujols, Cardinals: For his three home runs and five hits in Game 3 of the World Series, matching Babe Ruth (twice) and Reggie Jackson as the only players with three homers in a World Series game.
  • Chris Capuano, Mets: For the most dominant start of the season. On Aug. 26, Capuano pitched a two-hit shutout with no walks and 13 strikeouts against the Braves, resulting in a Game Score of 96. Game Score gives points for outs and strikeouts but subtracts for hits, runs and walks allowed. Three pitchers scored a 94: Ervin Santana (his no-hitter in which he walked one but also allowed a run), Zach Stewart (a one-hit, nine-strikeout game) and Justin Verlander (for a two-hit, one-walk, 12-strikeout game; his no-hitter, in which he struck out just four, scored a 90).
  • Brent Lillibridge, White Sox: For his back-to-back, game-saving, spectacular catches in the ninth inning on April 26 (click here for video). With the Sox leading the Yankees 3-2, Lillibridge entered late in the game, and with two runners on and one out in the bottom of the ninth, he raced back to the wall in right field to rob Alex Rodriguez of a game-winning hit. Robinson Cano then hit a lower liner to right that Lillibridge snared with a diving catch. Mark Simon reported at the time that of 61 balls hit in that area to that point in the season, only three had been caught.