On Friday I threw up my hands in bewilderment at what appears to be the A’s master plan for the 2011-12 offseason: accumulating as many OF/1B/DH-types as one team possibly can. Then, I saw this, and did a complete about-face. Manny Ramirez? Manny Being Manny? So what if the A’s already have 10 candidates for a maximum of 5 positions (1B, DH, LF, RF, 4th OF)? So what if Manny hasn’t played a full season since 2008 and won’t play one in 2012 given that he has to serve a 50-game suspension if and when he signs with a major league team? If A’s fans are to be treated to what may prove to be the worst season for the franchise on the field since 1997, Manny Ramirez is more likely to get me out to the Coliseum than Colin Cowgill.
Signing Manny Ramirez would adhere to a well-worn A’s strategy from recent years: bringing in an aging superstar and trying to extract from him a final decent season. Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas again, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui, the A’s have spent more than half a decade using their DH position as an alchemist’s workshop for transforming the lead of a hitter past his prime into the gold of a performance resembling that hitter at his peak. Not that it has worked out that way. After Frank Thomas tallied impressive numbers and helped propel the A’s to the ALCS in 2006, the practice of taking a flier on an over-the-hill slugger in the DH spot has produced diminishing returns. Since 2006, here is how the A’s retread DH’s have fared:
2006 – Frank Thomas: 137 G, 559 PA, 77 R, 39 HR, 114 RBI, .290 BA, .381 OBP, .545 SLG, 2.7 WAR
2007 – Mike Piazza: 83 G, 329 PA, 33 R, 8 HR, 44 RBI, .275 BA, .313 OBP, .414 SLG, -0.2 WAR
2008 – Frank Thomas: 55 G, 217 PA, 20 R, 5 HR, 19 RBI, .263 BA, .364 OBP, .387 SLG, 0.0 WAR
2009 – Jason Giambi: 83 G, 328 PA, 20 R, 11 HR, 32 RBI, .193 BA, .332 OBP, .364 SLG, -0.3 WAR
2011 – Hideki Matsui: 141 G, 545 PA, 58 R, 12 HR, 72 RBI, .251 BA, .321 OBP, .375 SLG, 0.3 WAR
Even given the very pedestrian nature of the contributions of these once fearsome hitters in their emeritus seasons with the A’s, any one of these would have cracked the top 5 on the team in OPS in 2011. That’s right, even with 3 out of 5 of these players failing to play much more than half a season, any of them would have been one of the 5 best players on the 2011 A’s in terms of OPS.
And that is why I welcome the news of the A’s ‘ interest in Manny Ramirez even after questioning their decisions to sign/trade for some of the other hitters they have acquired this offseason. Even if Manny plays only half a season (entirely possible once you factor in the suspension and potential injuries), if he follows the trend of other guys who have passed through Oakland on their way out of baseball, he could be one of the more potent bats in what looks to be an even more-punchless lineup than the A’s featured last season.
Of course Manny, unlike the other names on the list above, comes with his share of concerns. He didn’t play much at all last season, so whether he will produce at anything close to his previous levels is a legitimate question. Then there is the suspension, which will keep Manny from playing for the big league club for nearly 1/3 of the season. How Manny will hit without his female fertility drugs, or David Ortiz’s magic eye drops is another unknown variable. Finally, there is the question of Manny’s character and the way multiple teams have soured on him in quick succession.
The suspension may give Manny the opportunity to position himself to contribute at the major league level again. And Manny has sworn that if he is given another chance by a major league team, that he will be a role model and the picture of good citizenship. But even if Manny either simply cannot recapture that which made him such an imposing hitter in Boston and LA or cannot live up to his promise to be a good teammate and a good person, signing him would likely be a low-cost, low-risk proposition. If he joins the team, produces and stays out of trouble, he could be a bargain addition to an otherwise anemic A’s lineup. If he doesn’t hit or doesn’t behave, the team will have invested little in him and can waive him without a second thought.
So even though he would only add to an already hopelessly crowded OF/1B/DH pool, I say bring Manny in. He may not be the player or the draw that he has been at other stops in his career, but at the very least he is more intriguing, more entertaining and has more potential upside than the likes of Josh Reddick and Kila Ka’aihue.