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The Manny Market

It really seems as if Manny Ramirez wants to play in the major leagues in 2012. He’s had a rough go of it since last April, having a brief and ineffective stint with the Tampa Bay Rays that ended when he retired to avoid the ignominy of a 100-game suspension for a positive PED test. Yes, Manny brings baggage, and he will be 40 in May. However, despite the way things ended in 2011, Ramirez has a long record of impressive offensive production. It is hard to say which teams might actually be interested, but what teams even have a place for him? Not many, and league-wide interest (understandably) seems tepid so far. But if we scour the league, some possibilities do appear.

How well can Manny hit at this point? He looked terrible with the Rays this past April, but on a statistical level, that sample is pretty close to irrelevant. What the scouts think of him when (and if) they go seen him work out is extremely important, of course, but that is not something to which we have access. However, even in 2010, when he was exiled from Los Angeles and had a forgotten-and-forgettable stint with the White Sox, he managed an outstanding 138 wRC+ (.298/..409/.460). Oliver projects Manny for a context-neutral .364 wOBA in 2012, which is about two-and-a-half wins above average overall a full season in the current run environment

That projection has more uncertainty than most, since the 2011 sample is close to nothing. Manny’s age and time off is also something worth considering. Admitting that this involves a good deal of subjectivity, I do not think a .340 wOBA is an unrealistic or optimistic projection for Manny in 2012. That is not a number I am going to repeatedly reference, I am simply saying that that I see it as likely Manny can still hit well enough to contribute if a team has room for him. I think he could easily be a one-win DH for some team in 2012, and there is upside as well. Given the likely price, it would be virtually “no-risk.”

In this look at a “market for Manny,” I am not primarily looking at what teams are likely to consider at Manny — that is a reporter’s job. I am just giving my opinion about what teams maybe should check him out. It is a pretty short list. For one thing, Manny is going to need to be full-time designated hitter. Leaving aside some NL team signing him to be a bench pinch-hitter (I doubt he would come back for that, although I guess his former teammate Jim Thome did), that narrows things down to the American League.

Among the teams of the American League, what would make a good landing spot for Manny? Well, finances are not going to be a problem, as it sounds like it will not take more than a league-minimum or even minor-league deal to sign him. However, teams still need to have a spot open at DH, or a player they are willing to shove aside for Manny. Moreover, unless a team is really barren at DH, it probably needs to be a contending team, as there is not really any future in Manny, as he is obviously looking for a one-year deal to “prove himself” again. With those in mind, let’s peruse the American League to see if there are any potential homes for Manny that makes sense.

Starting in the West, I think it is fair to rule out the Angels. They are contending, but they are already pretty set at DH with Bobby Abreu. Manny might be better at this point, but is that likely enough for them to sit Abreu and his big salary on the bench? Probably not. Even without Abreu, the Angels are rather crowded with other DH candidates like Mark Trumbo. Even assuming their rumored desire for Prince Fielder is not fulfilled, the Mariners are not a good fit either. They are still clearly in a rebuilding phase, and while neither Justin Smoak or Mike Carp are all that exciting, it is not worth benching either of them to roll the dice on Manny for one season. Speaking of rebuilding teams, do we even need to go over the As? Sure, Manny would come cheap, and I personally do not have much faith in Brandon Allen, but they might as well give him a chance.

But what about the Rangers? They already have a DH being paid very well in Michael Young, and even Manny might hit better, they cannot really just bench Young (although it would be thrilling if there was another bout of trade rumors and angry recrimination involving Young and the front office). But assuming the Rangers really are out on Fielder, the Rangers probably could stand to upgrade on Mitch Moreland at first base. If they feel like Young can play first base full-time, they could move Young there and put Manny at DH. It would be inexpensive (and thus low risk), they can keep Moreland around somewhere in case things go wrong, and offers upside for a team that obviously has designs on a third straight trip to the World Series, but needs to keep up with the Angels.

How about the Central? Remember the three days Manny was on the White Sox in 2010? Maybe he’d make a great platoon partner with Adam Dunn as DH as part a the White Sox’ “sort of” rebuild? Ha… yeah… no. Detroit is already set at DH with Victor Martinez. Cleveland might make sense given that they want to contend and are (as always) on a tight budget, but they are already paying Travis Hafner to play DH. As for the Royals, even if you believes they should make a run at contention in 2012, they already have Billy Butler at DH full-time. I personally believe think they need to wait until 2013 to take a shot, so even if they got a really great pitching return in trade for Butler, signing Manny for 2012 probably would not make sense.

That leaves Minnesota. Manny seems like an odd fit for Minnesota, despite the fact that he could potentially keep up the Delmon Young/Jason Kubel tradition in the field. However, as has been discussed before, the contractual commitments to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (with those contracts severely hampering the trade value of those players) mean that the Twins are sort of stuck “going for it.” While off-season acquisition Ryan Doumit is penciled in as their DH, he is not much of a hitter. Oliver projects Doumit as a .319 wOBA hitter next season, which really does not play at DH. Moreover, with Joe Mauer always needing relief, Doumit might get some time behind the plate (although that is a pretty bad idea for defensive reasons). More significant is the continued uncertainty around Morneau’s recovery from his concussion. Even with Doumit aboard, those things could open up time for Manny at DH. As I said, it seems strange at first, but the situation in Minnesota really suits a Manny signing.

Finally we come to the AL East. For comedy’s sake, I wish there was a spot open at DH in Boston, but David Ortiz has that spot occupied for at least one more season. Manny has expressed interest in the Yankees in the past, and the price now might be right given the Yankees’ recent austerity. However, barring some sort of Rafael Soriano-esque craziness from on high, the Yankees are set with Jesus Montero as their primary DH in 2012. Of the two of the teams that have reportedly had people take a look at Manny work out, one is at least pretty funny: the Orioles. It isn’t like the Orioles are stacked with hitters. But the whole organization needs to focus on a time frame three to five years down the road (at a minimum), not on some guy to whom new GM Dan Duquette signed to a massive contract ten years ago.

The other team that reportedly has already taken at least a brief look at Manny is Toronto. This makes a bit more sense. I am not sure that the Blue Jays are quite ready to contend in the AL East already in 2012 — their offense should be good, but not good enough to make up for their starting pitching. Maybe if they had won the Darvish bidding and he worked out. That said, I could be talked in Toronto. After all, look how many times the Angels went to the playoffs with Jeff Mathis! But seriously, I could.

Would Manny have a logical place to play in the bland expanses of the Rogers Centre? Leaving aside the team’s apparent plan to continue jerking Travis Snider around, maybe. Right now it looks like the plan is to have Adam Lind at first base and Edwin Encarnacion at DH. Lind hasn’t hit decently since his great 2009 (really the only time he has hit in a full-time major league season), and Encarnacion hits well enough to be at least a stopgap everywhere but his best position — DH. That is not to say that they does not have uses or potential, simply that none of them pose a big obstacle to Manny getting time at DH, and Lind’s contract is not so big that the team has to play him full-time. They could even platoon Encarnacion and Lind at first a bit to give playing time to Ramirez if they decide it is worth giving him a shot.

Finally, we come to the AL East’s perennial budget contender, the Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, I know that it is extremely unrealistic for Manny to return to the hallowed ground of The Trop after the way things ended, but since we are speculating… The Rays currently do not have much of a plan in place for their 2012 DH. Brandon Guyer looks like he might end up getting some of the plate appearances there, but the team probably would rather have him getting time in the outfield with Matt Joyce in one corner and Desmond Jennings in center. Of course, that would involve trading B.J. Upton, but the team wisely understands that Upton is good and valuable enough that he is worth paying for while the team is in contention — they do not need to simply dump him. However, if the Rays did manage to move Upton or decided to start the year with Guyer and Joyce platooning in right field, and the scouting reports from Manny’s workouts are positive… well, I guess the “crazier things have happened” chestnut goes here, right? Again, I realize it that there is no way it would happen in the real world, but it does seem like a potential fit.

Four teams, then, seem like they might be able to use Manny: the Rangers, the Twins, the Jays, and the Rays. Even then, each team would have to move things around to make it work, and only the Jays have been reported to express interest so far (as far as I know). This is all to say that while the chances for Manny landing a job seem slim, with a bit of work one can drum up some possibilities. Given the right circumstances, things could work out well for a team willing to take a low-risk chance on Manny.

I won’t be holding my breath.