Manny Ramirez Is On His Way Back, But Should You Care?

Manny Ramirez is scheduled to begin a rehab stint for Triple-A Sacramento this weekend in anticipation of joining the Athletics on May 30 and… you know what? Let’s just get this right out of the way up front: Manny’s a cheat, a jerk, an abuser, and probably a number of other things too. Whatever you want to call him, it’s most likely true, and you’ll get little argument from me. That said, he’s also a bat with a Hall of Fame resume (if not, for various reasons, a likely enshrinee) and he’s available in just about every league with roughly three-quarters of the season remaining, so he’s worth checking into.

For the surprising A’s, hanging around in the race at 19-19, it’s not hard to see why they might be willing to take a chance here. Roundly expected to struggle greatly to score runs, they’ve done just that, as they’re currently tied with San Diego & Seattle for the second-worst wOBA in baseball, ahead of only the dreadful Pirates. Among full-time players – defined here as having 100 or more plate appearances – only the breakout season of Josh Reddick is anything more than league-average, as far as wOBA goes. The current DH tandem of Jonny Gomes & Kila Ka’aihue has been decent yet hardly irreplaceable, and with underwhelming performances from Seth Smith & Coco Crisp in left and Daric Barton at first base, there’s room to find playing time for those two elsewhere. Manny may or may not have anything left, but it certainly makes sense for the A’s to try at this point, and he’s expected to hit third or fourth in the lineup and become the primary designated hitter.

So Manny should get an opportunity. Great. Is there really any hope that he can produce? The A’s certainly won’t give him too long to find out, and May 30 is an important date; not only is it the day he’s scheduled to return, it’s also his 40th birthday, and that’s not exactly the age at which a hitter is considered “in his prime”.

Since the advent of divisional play in 1961, there have been 104 players in their age-40 or older season who have received 200 or more plate appearances. I was actually a little surprised when I looked at the list, because I expected to see an overwhelming amount of sad codas on otherwise exceptional careers, but roughly half of the old-timers managed to contribute a league-average wOBA or better. (I suppose the conclusion can easily be drawn that if you’re getting that kind of playing time at such an advanced age, you’ve had such a bright peak that being even a fraction of that is still useful, and indeed the list is topped by names like Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, & Hank Aaron.)

There’s little question that based on numbers alone, Manny belongs in that exalted company, but nothing is ever as simple as it seems with him. There’s always going to be the question of whether he can produce without some unnatural assistance, and while I tend to take such discussions lightly – he crushed pitching basically from the day he entered the bigs at age 21, and the exact impact of taking enhancers is still disputed – it’s naive to think that the question won’t be asked.

Of course, there’s yet another wrench in the works, and that’s that thanks to the suspension and how early his 2011 stint with Tampa ended, Manny is coming off of essentially 20 months away from the game. That’s a huge gap for any player, but it’s almost unheard of for someone his age. Working in his favor is the fact that in his last full season, 2010 with the Dodgers & White Sox, he was still effective, if not quite vintage Manny, contributing a line of .298/.409/.460 (.382 wOBA). Playing half of his games in Oakland’s cavernous home field certainly isn’t going to help his home run totals, and the days of .500 slugging percentages are almost all but certainly behind him.

It’s clear that the odds are stacked against Manny Ramirez being a productive hitter again. He’s turning 40, he’s nearly two years away from the game, he’s in a tough park, and he’s – in theory, at least – playing clean. Yet I can’t help but be intrigued, because that fantastic eye didn’t come from PED’s, and he’s rarely been unproductive when healthy. I always say you can find saves whenever you need them, but offense seems to get harder & harder all the time, and when you look at the other options on the waiver wire – depending on how deep your league is of course, but it can be dire – you can at least dream on a historic hitter in an AL-only league.

Or maybe he’ll just fool us all, as he’s done before. Verdict: you hardly need to rush to the wire to claim him, but don’t write it off completely.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

15 Responses to “Manny Ramirez Is On His Way Back, But Should You Care?”

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  1. Proudhon says:

    Mike – I have never met Manny Ramirez – my guess is that you haven’t either. To lead off your piece calling him a jerk, etc., is simply uncalled for and irrelevant to any other point your article may have had (I’m still looking, but have found nothing original in it at all). I’m not saying that Manny is a great guy (I never met him, remember?) just that you’ve added nothing to the discourse with your gratuitous characterization.

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      Quite the opposite. I’m a Dodger fan, and generally a huge defender of Manny during his time in blue. If anything, I usually get accused of ignoring his sins too much. And yes, I have met him, by the way.

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    • philosofool says:

      The guy has repeatedly cheated at baseball, and did so well after there was a clear culture that this is cheating. You don’t excuse it when someone cheats *you* in cards. That’s a jerk, and I don’t need to meet the people who cheat you in cards to know that they’re jerks. Just cause someone is a nice and friendly and cool guy when he’s not cheating me doesn’t mean he’s not a cheater and a jerk. Why are you making excuses for Manny? Because he never cheated *you* personally?

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  2. Proudhon says:

    And when you met him, what did he do to make you conclude he was a jerk?

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    • Brad says:

      Proudhon, you obviously are a Manny apologist. While far from being a contender for the title of “world’s-worst-human,” you go the opposite direction and blithely ignore Manny’s history in which yes, it seems quite fair to at least assume that he is jerk. Oh and your post doesn’t seem to do you much credit either in that department either. *shrugs

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  3. Kriz says:

    Google “Manny Ramirez is a Jerk”. It’s a known fact and worth noting in an article about the jerks current value.

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  4. Mandan Ransam says:

    He slapped my kiddies into the deep end of an ocean, knocked over my old lady’s binoculars, laughed while spewing dolphin flesh from his maw. Dude is a jerky dude.

    But, he, has inspiration, and wants to succeed for the children, for his own and all others. Although, he may not raise his career OPS severely, he should be able to hussle down the line at first and drive in a few runs like Jim Moyer, or take a balls under base and stroll more casually.

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  5. Cory says:

    I’m pretty sure Mike started his piece by calling him a jerk to quickly difuse any sentiments to not add him to your team based on his personality or past history. Once you get past the point that he may mot have ideal character, you can begin to talk about his skill set. It’s about his game. I don’t feel like the point of the piece was to make a character assesment of Manny, but to talk about potential usefullnes. In talking about Manny’s “jerkiness” we’re probably doing exactly what the author was trying to avoid.

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      +1 this man.

      Yes, if i had ignored that topic people would have said I was being naive; clearly, that’s all people are going to want to talk about anyway.

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  6. Sam says:

    Now this is the sort of unintentionally post-modern commenting that deserves whatever qualifies as the opposite of applause!

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  7. Jon L. says:

    Manny Ramirez gave my little sister his ice cream when hers fell on the sidewalk. He also used to help me with my math homework.

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  8. Steve says:

    While we’re on the subject of aging vets, why not snag pettitte if he’s available? Hell I’d take bonds at 47.

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    • Jason says:

      I plan on taking Pettitte when my bench situation allows it (I have a feeling a buddy is ignoring a joke trade offer just to keep me from dropping one of the guys). Should give at least a handful of useful starts.

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  9. UncleCharlieVT says:

    Manny Ramirez grew up in the Washington Heights in New York City, a poor, and in the 1980′s, crime ridden area. He is still worshipped like a god there. I’ve always found it sad (and perhaps “jerky”) that Ramirez has done little or nothing to give back to the community he grew up in.

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  10. Matty Brown says:

    I bet most pitchers think he’s a jerk as well.

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