The Fenway Frauds returns for the finale of David Ortiz: the 2016 MLB season. After a strange stretch where the Boston Red Sox made the postseason just once between 2010 and 2015, inclusive, the team rebounded to win 93 games and the AL East Division—thanks to some surprise recoveries from the typical suspects … in addition to the Fountain of Youth enjoyed continuously by Ortiz, of course.
But again, as we mentioned last time out, the organization blended this usual PED strategy with some very good up-and-coming talent, too, creating a nice roster blend for success. Alas, it still didn’t get the Red Sox to the World Series, however, so there had to be frustration in Beantown, with more impending changes to come in the near future.
Exhibit A: Hanley Ramírez
At age 31 in 2015, the Boston organization signed him to a four-year, $88M contract, and the team got a .717 OPS in return during the first year of that contract from Ramírez. You know the team couldn’t tolerate that, right? So, at age 32 in 2016, lil’ Han-Ram came back to post an .866 OPS—his best full-season number since 2009, when he was 25 years old. Nope, not suspect at all!
How does a player improve his OPS by 150 points when he’s officially leaving his prime? We’re sure the usual media stories about offseason conditioning, adjustments to the batting stance, and other such blather were offered up to explain the miraculous return of productivity after seasons lost to injury and poor focus, etc. We also wonder who actually believes that garbage!
One curious thing here was the fact Hanley played in 147 games, a number he had not been able to reach since 2012 when he was 28 years old. So, after years of injuries, he somehow comes back stronger and with more endurance, at age 32, than he’d been able to demonstrate for quite some time. Cue the explanations above, and cue Boston fans’ willing suspension of disbelief.
Exhibit B: Chris Young
At age 32, Young hit a career-best .276 with the Red Sox in 2016. Mind you, he spent the 2013 season with the playoff-bound Oakland Athletics and their 2012 Manager of the Year winner Bob Melvin—and could only hit .200 for the A’s under those optimal circumstances. His .850 OPS in 2016 was also a career-high mark. So guess who Young played with in 2015 while with the New York Yankees?
Álex Rodríguez, fresh off his 2014 suspension for PED use. Young’s “recovery” from zero to hero really began with the Yankees, where he posted a .792 OPS in 163 games in 2014 and 2015 combined. After making just $2.5M with New York in 2015, though, Boston signed Young to a 2-year, $13M contract, clearly realizing he was their “kind of player” … right?
Well, in those two seasons, the Red Sox got just a .773 OPS out of Young, and he was not retained after the 2017 season. He somehow conned the Los Angeles Angels out of $2M for his final MLB season in 2018, bringing his total earned after “learning” stuff from A-Rod to $15M from ages 32-34. Once again, we say, follow the money, and you will see some interesting things.
Exhibit C: Dustin Pedroia
We’re bringing him back one last time, at age 32, to show you his continued recovery while under very expensive retainer. After bottoming out with a .712 OPS in 2014, his return to nominal production levels returned this season, as the one-time MVP posted an .825 OPS in what would be his last full MLB season. This was his highest production level since 2011, by the way.
Coming into this season, the Red Sox still owed Pedroia $84M through 2021. He somehow managed a .318 batting average, too, the second-best mark of his career, on age-32 legs that were not running out a lot of grounders. But he managed to hit 36 doubles, still, so he was powerful enough to knock a lot of balls off the Green Monster in Fenway Park.
After this season, he would only play 119 more games in his MLB career, collecting $25M for the 2020 and 2021 seasons even though he never played in a game. Was it worth it to the Boston organization? They’d say yes, because like other golden poster boys, his image was worth millions in revenue to fans totally willing to ignore the obvious.
Exhibit D: David Ortiz
At age 40 in his final MLB season, Big Papi led the American League in doubles (48), RBI (127), SLG (.620), and OPS (1.021). Right. The OPS mark was his highest since 2012, while the doubles and SLG were his best since 2007. The RBI? His biggest output since 2006. What kind of player puts together that kind of season at age 40 and then just retires? A suspect one, for sure.
Hitting .315 at age 40 also isn’t very likely when you don’t have the legs to do it. So this was all about power, as that doubles total would suggest in Fenway Park. After all, this is a guy who stole 17 bases in his entire MLB career. And even on this juiced-up roster, Ortiz managed to lead the AL in IBBs, too, with 15 free passes issued on purpose. Go figure.
Conclusion: Changing of the guard
With Pedroia and Ortiz never to play large roles again going forward, the Red Sox continued to develop younger talent that would lead to the organization’s 2018 World Series title aided by sign stealing. The manager, John Farrell, would be replaced by then, with a younger, craftier manager who moved the team away from PED reliance and toward something equally nefarious.
But we are still one season away from the Fenway Frauds’ recognition that it was time to move beyond mere chemical mischief. Ortiz may be the second-most successful cheater in MLB history, in terms of PED use, next to Barry Bonds, as neither guy ever was suspended for obvious cheating. Sadly, Ortiz got voted into the Hall of Fame, and we’re still not sure why. Here’s to hoping that can be undone someday …