Manny Ramirez Is Back, Giving Billy Beane a New (Old) Hall of Fame Toy

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Manny Ramirez Is Back, Giving Billy Beane a New (Old) Hall of Fame Toy
J. Meric/Getty Images

Billy Beane must have loved TinkerToys when he was a kid. Actually, no, maybe that's not true. It had to be harder to calculate the OPS+ for a TinkerToy than for today's toys.

Did you know Manny Ramirez has a career OPS of .996 with an OPS+ of 154? Yes, both those numbers include the five-game, 17 plate-appearance stint with the Tampa Bay Rays last season before seemingly quitting the game instead of facing his second suspension for failing a drug test. Still, both numbers are awesome. 

Was last year a final sign of decline for Manny, or was it a bad fit at a bad time, something he can bounce back from in another environment with lowered expectations?

How Manny fits in with the Oakland A's will be a pleasure to watch this season and, if it works, will be another amazing chapter in Beane's front-office scrapbook. Even if it doesn't work, one thing is for certain—the man pulling the strings for the Oakland Athletics sure does love tinkering with new (and old) toys.

Ramirez is widely considered the best right-handed hitter of his generation (not named Albert Pujols) and one of the greatest right-handed bats in the history of the game.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, Manny has the ninth-best career OPS in history, fifth-best from the right side of the plate.

But Manny is nearly 40 years old and hasn't swung a competitive bat since April 6, 2011.

Since leaving the Dodgers for the Chicago White Sox at the 2010 trade deadline, Ramirez has just 19 hits—two for extra bases—while reaching base just 33 times in 105 plate appearances, hardly the Hall of Fame numbers he put up throughout his career.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

That said, it's hard to blame Beane for wanting to tinker with this latest, oldest toy.

Despite the obvious signs that Ramirez is well past the downside of his career, signing one of the best hitters of all time for a $500,000 minor-league deal is actually rather prudent.

The fact is, the habitually spend-thrifty A's will need a lot of help if they're going to compete in the suddenly-stacked American League West. Taking a bargain-basement flier on a living baseball legend is a great way to get bang for your buck while mitigating your losses if it turns sour. 

That's the thing with Manny. This A's experiment is either going to work or it won't, and either outcome will be fabulous. There really isn't any middle ground left with Manny. He has, after all, made a career of being Manny. 

But even if it fabulously blows up in Beane's face, it's worth a shot with Manny for the price.

There is little doubt the A's enter the 2012 season looking at third place in their own division as a realistic benchmark, if not the goal. Clearly Texas is one of the top teams in the American League and the Angels have taken great strides in the offseason to bring in the best available talent to bolster another run to the postseason.

Oakland finished 22 games out of first last season, seven games ahead of the Mariners, who also look to rebound from a disappointing year last year. Does anyone, including the A's front office, think they have a better chance this year to win that division?

No, Manny will not be the player who pushes the A's into the playoffs. But his signing may be nothing more than a good fit for both the player and the club. Via MLB.com:

"He's one of the greatest right-handed hitters I've seen in my lifetime, and I hope he's got a lot left in the tank," Jemile Weeks said. "He's had some time off, and whether that helps or hurts, we hope it's a positive thing. I just think the addition of him can help out, no matter the upside on the field."

The players seem to get it, so far. Manny may not be coming in to necessarily help out on the field. Heck, the guy can't even step on the field in a meaningful game until the day before June. But he didn't get all those career hits by accident.

Manny is a living legend, and if he can help a young A's lineup with a little spring training knowledge and early-season advice, he will already be worth what they are paying him before he even steps on the field.

The question does remain, though, what's in it for Manny?

You wouldn't think the decision to come back would be about the money, especially for such a low-end deal.

Does Manny still have anything left to prove?

Does he not want to end his career the way it ended in Tampa?

Does he want to have one more year under his MLB career so it pushes his Hall of Fame eligibility back a season, in hopes we figure out this steroid mess by the time he comes up for his first vote?

Whatever his motivation, and no matter how long he stays, Manny is back now. The tinkering is just getting started in Oakland.

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