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Who's heading to the Hall?

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Ramirez, Rodriguez, Guerrero head 2017 Cooperstown ballot

The 2017 ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame has been released. It features a trio of stars each controversial in his own right at its top, with a collection of worthy holdovers.

Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero are far and away the most prominent newcomers to this year's ballot. By the numbers, each man has a very real case for induction. However, we've long since learned that clearing the gatekeepers of Cooperstown is about much more than mere statistics.

The conversation starts with Ramirez. No one could look at Manny's stat sheet and argue that his numbers are anything less than Cooperstown-worthy. He put up the fabled .300/.400/.500 line, finishing his 19-year career with a batting average of .312, an on-base percentage of .411 and a slugging percentage of .585. He's in the all-time top-20 in both home runs (555; 15th) and RBI (1,831; 18th) and is one of only three players with at least 20 career grand slams. He was part of the team that broke Boston's fabled curse in 2004 and won an additional title with the team in 2007.

He also was suspended not once, but twice at the end of his career for violating MLB's policies on performance-enhancing drugs. Players have been penalized for little more than PED innuendo in the balloting, so it seems safe to assume that Manny won't be being Manny in Cooperstown this time around and maybe not for a while.

Next up is Rodriguez, who has an argument as the best all-around catcher of his era and one of the best of all time. Offensively, the numbers are impressive Pudge's career line is .296/.334/.464; he hit 311 home runs and his 2,844 hits are far and away the most all-time for a catcher. His RBI and runs scored totals are both over 1,300. But as a defender, Rodriguez was paradigm-shifting, an elite backstop who redefined his position on the way to 13 Gold Gloves, an MVP award and a reputation as the best defensive catcher of his generation.

But Rodriguez also bears the stigma of PEDs, though not to the extent of Ramirez. Still, Rodriguez's was one of the names named by Jose Canseco as far as being a steroid user. Yes, the evidence is circumstantial, but even whispers can be enough to torpedo a candidate. Still, Pudge probably has the best odds of anyone on this ballot of going in as a first-timer.

Finally, we have Vladimir Guerrero. Vlad might be the fringiest of the three prime newcomers due almost solely to a shorter career. In 16 seasons, he hit .318/.379/.553; his raw totals (2,580 hits, 449 homers, 1,496 RBI, 1,328 runs scored) are impressive, but perhaps not impressive enough considering his era. This despite his receiving MVP votes in all but one of his full seasons in the majors (including a 2004 win) and being generally considered the best bad-ball hitter of his time. He also had a cannon for an arm, racking up 126 career outfield assists.

Alas, he didn't stick around quite long enough to rack up the milestone counting stats. If he had played another couple of seasons and reached numbers like 500 homers and/or 3,000 hits and he could have; he walked away at 36 after a solid season he'd be a slam-dunk. He'll be on the edge for a while, but he'll probably make his way in at some point.

Other guys notably Jorge Posada and Magglio Ordonez will generate some interest, but seem unlikely to make the long climb to induction.

Also worthy of note: there are a LOT of players with Boston connections. There's the aforementioned Manny of course, but he's joined by Red Sox legends Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. Neither man warrants inclusion in the Hall, but it would be nice to see them get enough love to stick around for a couple of years. J.D. Drew is here too, although he probably doesn't really care. A couple of stopover Sox shortstops in Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria are present as well.

(And of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention beloved-by-Bangor slugger Matt Stairs. He's one of those guys who might be one-and-done on the ballot, but with 265 homers over a 19-year career and some big postseason heroics, he deserves the honor of being nominated.)

As for the holdovers, there are three guys who almost made it last year. Jeff Bagwell got the closest he finished just 15 votes short of induction last year and should probably get over the hump this time around. Trevor Hoffman needs a bump of 30-something votes to cross the threshold he might be another year away, but he'll get there. And of course, there's Tim Raines, who managed just shy of 70 percent of the vote last year but is in his final year of eligibility. Raines is only the second-best leadoff man in modern baseball history if he doesn't make it, it'll be one of the most ludicrous snubs in years.

Oh, and steroid poster boys Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are still here and still struggling their respective ways up the ballot.

This might be a good year for holdovers as none of the top newcomers look like first-ballot locks. Out of Bagwell, Hoffman and Raines, at least two will likely get in. But really, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, the attitude really should be 'the more the merrier.'

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