Ramirez’s career has been in steep decline since the end of the 2008 season. A 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance was the predominant storyline during his 2009 campaign, and cost him much of the good will he had built up in Los Angeles. His 2010 campaign was then marred by injury and contract complaints, and he was eventually shipped to Chicago for the season’s final months.
As a result, Ramirez has hit for a .293 average, 28 homeruns and 105 RBI over the past two years – numbers that would once upon a time have been considered subpar for just one season of his impressive career.
But while many (most recently ESPN’s Buster Olney) have noted that Ramriez’s days as one of baseball’s most feared hitters are gone, the embattled slugger remains one of the more intriguing options in this year’s free agent market. With career stats including 555 homeruns, 1,830 RBIs and a .411 on-base percentage, Ramirez’ resume is unparalleled, save for Jim Thome.
If he will accept an incentive-laden deal, he could prove to be a valuable DH for a team in need of a veteran presence with a little pop.
Below are five AL teams who could use Ramirez at DH in 2011.
Chicago White Sox
Manny’s most recent team is likely aiming higher with its vacant DH spot, but could do worse than to settle for a Ramirez reunion. Ramirez put up terrible numbers during his time in Chicago, hitting just one homer with two RBIs in 69 at-bats, but is a career .307 hitter at US Cellular Field, and is likely to see at least a minor rebound from his overall poor 2010 campaign.
That being said, the ChiSox are unlikely to be a strong player for Ramirez, as they have their sights set on some other power hitters. The White Sox have been frequently linked to Adam Dunn this offseason, and he’d undoubtedly be a better choice than Ramirez. They’d also like to bring Paul Konerko back, meaning Konerko and Dayan Viciedo could split time between first base and DH. Ramirez would be an attractive fallback option should they be unable to retain either of the aforementioned sluggers, though, and could provide some protection for Carlos Quentin in a lineup becoming rapidly thin on power hitters.
The Athletics are a team based on pitching and defense, but that doesn’t excuse their abysmal offense. A year after finishing 28th in the majors in homeruns and 25th in team slugging, the A’s look poised to once again finish among the worst in baseball in most offensive categories unless they add some help.
Enter Ramirez, who, even with his declining skill set, would probably hit fourth for the A’s from day one. Oakland’s best two hitters are Kurt Suzuki and the newly acquired David DeJesus — nice complementary pieces, but not players around whom an offense should be built. The only problem with this scenario is that the A’s have stockpiled low-risk, medium-reward players who could possibly serve as the team’s primary DH next season. Edwin Encarnacion, Jack Cust, Conor Jackson and prospect Chris Carter are all men without a position in Oakland right now, and the A’s may prefer to let one of them win the regular DH job rather than signing a potential clubhouse cancer in Ramirez.
The Rangers experienced a lot of success converting Vladimir Guerrero to a full-time DH last season, and they likely prefer the idea of retaining Guerrero rather than experiment with a different player in Ramirez. However, if Vlad prices himself out of Texas or if the Rangers spend all their money on Cliff Lee, Manny could be a cost-effective option for a team in need of a DH.
Ramirez probably lacks Guerrero’s pop at this stage of his career, but can still to be an OBP and doubles machine, getting on base ahead of mashers Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler. The hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington may help to mask some of Ramirez’s diminishing power as well and Manny could put up one final 25-homer season in the Texas heat. Another bonus here is that should the mercurial Ramirez miss any time due to injury or apathy, Texas has a deep enough lineup to survive without him on a short-term basis.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays will be losing a lot of offense if both Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena leave via free agency as expected. The Rays have an abundance of talented middle-of-the-diamond players, but have had trouble developing power hitters since Longoria’s ascension in 2008. With Evan Longoria slated to be the only returning Ray who hit over 20 homeruns or 80 RBI last season, the Rays are badly in need of some thump.
As already noted, Ramirez isn’t the power hitter he used to be, but would be a vast improvement over anyone else the Rays could run out at DH given their current roster. There are mixed reports regarding Ramriez’s current ability to hit quality fastballs, but he’s a good enough mistake hitter to still mash 20 homeruns if given 450 at-bats, and he should pile up doubles as well. Batting Ramirez behind Longoria would at least make pitchers think twice about walking the Rays’ star in key situations, and Ramirez’s aloofness on the bases would be partially masked by an extraordinarily athletic lineup around him.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are the team that has been most frequently linked to Ramirez this offseason, and in many ways they make the most sense. Toronto’s GM Alex Anthropoulos was recently quoted saying that “baggage” wouldn’t always stop him from signing a player, and Anthropoulos has built his lineup around a power-first philosophy as well. Manny is also a good fit for Toronto because unlike with any of the other four teams listed, he wouldn’t be relied upon as a key offensive cog in the Jays’ lineup.
With Jose Bautista, Vernon Wells, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill all capable of hitting for big-time power, there’s a chance that Ramirez could hit sixth or seventh in the Jays’ lineup, and take on a more complementary role. That may be the task Manny is best-suited for at this stage in his career. There are some factors that suggest Manny might not have a stint in Canada, however. Anthropolous has made a point of acquiring athletic players, such as Yunel Escobar, Fred Lewis, Rajai Davis and prospects Adeiny Hechevarria and Anthony Gose, and has gotten rid of stiff, station-to-station players such as Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Wallace. Ramirez would also make Toronto’s lineup right-handed heavy, as Lind and Travis Snider would be the only prominent lefties in the batting order.
If any team does sign Ramirez this offseason, they will be assuming significant risk. Ramirez’ injury history, declining skill set and suspect on-field effort mean that he’s far from a sure bet to be productive, and if his team is playing poorly or he feels as though he’s lost a step, it’s entirely conceivable he could walk away mid-season.
But with a little luck and a lot of contractual incentives, Manny could once again help plenty of clubs in 2011.
Red Sox fans should just hope that team doesn’t reside in the AL East.