Do the Red Sox have the best outfield in baseball?

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Do the Red Sox have the best outfield in baseball?

There’s a litany of reasons why the band that brought you “Win, Dance, Repeat” can be considered the best outfield in baseball.

Mookie Betts finished second in the 2016 A.L. MVP race (and should have finished first). Jackie Bradley, Jr. is arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game and finally provided some offense last year, launching 26 home runs. Then there’s the 2017 top-ranked MLB positional prospect Andrew Benintendi, who burst on the scene by batting .295 (31-for-105) through 34 games.

The Red Sox have had their share of stellar outfielders over the years, but this could be the best group the franchise has seen. And yes, that includes the beloved Jim Rice-Fred Lynn-Dwight Evans combo.

How about today's game? Well, after reviewing the other 29 outfields, there’s no question the current Red Sox stack up with any of them.

Not convinced? Take a look at the best three outfields other than Boston's.

COLORADO ROCKIES: Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl

Gonzalez is an established MLB talent. Since he became an everyday outfielder in 2010, he’s hit .296 and is averaging 26 home runs. The long-ball total could be even higher if he could get stay on the field; however, Car-Go’s only played in as many as 130 games four times since 2010. In addition, he’s a three-time Gold Glove winner, and was in consideration again last season.

Blackmon’s continued to turn heads since his 2014 All-Star campaign. The 2016 Silver Slugger winner finished with 29 homers last year and a .324 average.

The third spot is up for grabs, but it's because there's actual competition for the job and not a lack of talent. Dahl, the Rockies' first-round draft choice in 2012, looks to be the best candidate after hitting .315 with 23 extra-base hits in his first 63 games with Colorado.

Still, Boston has to be considered  better. Betts is an MVP candidate and hasn’t had health issues like Gonzalez (knock on wood). Blackmon may be a better hitter than Bradley, but Bradley’s defense is far superior. In comparing the two young talents, Benintendi has faced more adversity -- between his injury and the postseason -- than Dahl, and he’s risen to the occasion. Plus, most general managers around the league seem to think he’s the best young offensive talent in the game.

MIAMI MARLINS: Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich

Stanton is one of the most physically gifted players in baseball, without question. But injuries have plagued him, especially the last two years. And while he can hit the ball a country mile -- averaging 41 home runs for every 162 games played -- his career average (.266) has taken a hit in the past few seasons.

Ozuna earned his first All-Star nod in 2016, finishing with 23 home runs. The 26-year-old has now hit 23 home runs twice in his career.

Yelich could become the best of Miami’s trio, after maintaining a high average (.298) in 2016 and tripling his 2015 home-run total by hitting 21 last year.

The Marlins have youth with Stanton (27) being the oldest, but their youngest is older than both Betts and Benintendi. The Red Sox’ bunch is better on defense, top to bottom. And other than Stanton’s raw power, they are offensively superior, too.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen

McCutchen had a rough 2016, but was an MVP candidate and Silver Slugger winner from 2012-2015. Had last season gone differently for him, the Pirates might’ve been higher on the list.

Marte earned his first All-Star nod and took home his second Gold Glove in as many seasons. In his fifth MLB season, he hit over .300 for the first time and swiped 47 bases, a career high.

Polanco is the youngest of the three (25) and still has to mature at the plate, hitting .253 through three seasons. However, he showed off some power in 2016 by launching 22 long balls in 144 games.

The Pirares are solid all-around defensively, maybe the best in that category of these contenders. But offensively they don’t hold a candle to Boston’s Killer B’s.

While there are other teams worth looking at -- the Nationals, Royals, Mets, Tigers, and Angels to name a few -- some were missing that solid third piece (Los Angeles), others are aging (New York) and some are just a clear tier below the rest (Detroit).

Which makes it hard to escape the conclusion that no matter how you slice it -- tools, statistics, age -- the Red Sox have baseball’s best all-around outfield.

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.