Mapping out Manny Ramirez's Long Road Back to the Majors
Having conquered Taiwan, Manny Ramirez now wants to return to his old stomping grounds.
Brandon DuBreuil passed along word on his "Manny Does Taiwan" website on Wednesday that Manny had been removed from the roster of the EDA Rhinos in the Chinese Professional Baseball League. There were conflicting reports as to why, but things were cleared up on Thursday.
Manny's agent, Barry Praver, told Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com:
The reason he decided not to return for the second half was to free himself to be available to play in the United States. This whole thing with Manny in Taiwan was a phenomenon. He invigorated the league. Attendance went through the roof. It was a very positive experience for both sides.
Manny was so invigorated by his play there that he wants to return to the majors.
Manny last played in the majors in 2011. His last productive season was in 2009. That was also the year he got busted for 50 games for PEDs, and he abruptly retired when he got busted again two years ago. He's now 41 years old.
So I'm with Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated on this one in thinking that Manny probably won't be playing in the majors anytime soon. The next time he resurfaces, it'll likely be in Japan.
But since there's a shred of a chance that Manny could draw some interest from Major League Baseball, it's worth it to stop and consider what he would have to do in order to actually make it back to the big leagues.
I've got four simple steps in mind.
Phase 1: Swallow Pride, Take a Minor League Deal
According to his agent, Manny doesn't have high expectations for his potential return to the majors.
“Manny would be interested in returning to the majors in any role, including that of a pinch hitter,” Praver told Morosi.
Fair enough, and it's not too hard to picture Manny in a pinch-hitting role in the National League. He could be like Matt Stairs in the (recent) old days or Jason Giambi during his time with the Colorado Rockies.
But if Manny thinks he's going to go straight from Taiwan to the majors, he'd better think again. And then again for good measure. Manny did very well in Taiwan, hitting .352/.422/.555 with eight home runs in 49 games. But any major league club willing to consider him is going to take these numbers for what they're worth: diddly.
There's an article on NationalArmsRace.com (h/t Jaffe) about the competition level equivalents of foreign leagues. The Chinese Professional Baseball League is below Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball, and that makes its competition equivalent something along the lines of High-A ball.
Knowing that, even a team desperate for a hitter and willing to give Manny a shot isn't going to put him in the majors right away. To get there, he's going to have to take a minor league deal and show that he can hack it in Double-A and/or Triple-A first.
In Manny's case, hacking it wouldn't just involve proving he can still hit.
Phase 2: Prove the Pop Is Still There
Manny was once capable of doing this:
He showed in Taiwan that he still has some of that:
So those eight home runs and that .555 slugging percentage? Maybe they're not that misleading. Maybe Manny really does have that much pop left in his bat. But there's no way to avoid the use of the word "maybe" there, as it's simply been too long since Manny showed off some pop in the states.
After Manny returned from his 50-game suspension in 2009, he slugged .492 in 77 games. In 2010, he slugged .460. And despite the fact he hit a respectable .302 in the minors last year in Oakland's system, he only slugged .349 with zero home runs in 17 games.
If Manny is to have any hope of making it to the majors as a pinch hitter, he'll have to show a club that he'd be able to come off the bench and provide something more than a single. Every team has a pinch hitter who can do that. Not every team has a pinch hitter who's a solid bet for an extra-base hit or a home run.
Manny would have to establish himself as just such a guy. Furthermore, he could do himself a favor by showing he could bring more to a club than just some thunder.
Phase 3: Bring Something Else to the Table
Manny's reputation is weird.
Partially because he himself is weird. We remember all the old Manny Being Manny antics, and Manny proved he was still quite capable of being Manny over in Taiwan:
But then there's the part of Manny that's just plain frustrating. In 2008 alone, he got into altercations with a traveling secretary and a teammate. A year later, he was busted for PEDs. When he was busted again in 2011, he didn't even bother to apologize to Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Knowing Manny's history, you have to think that any team interested in giving him a shot is going to prepare for the Manny everyone remembers: goofy guy one minute, royal pain in the you-know-what the next.
Maybe Manny's changed. But if he gets his shot, it's going to be on him to show that he has.
That would obviously involve being a model citizen while he toils away in the minors, but it wouldn't hurt for Manny to show that he's capable of playing the role of a helpful veteran, a la Giambi with the Rockies. If he were to go out of his way to advise and work with younger players, he might be able to convince the big club that he would be a good guy to have around in the clubhouse.
But even if Manny were to do that and show that he still has some power, he would still have to do one more thing to make it to the big leagues.
Phase 4: Be Patient
Yup, that's it. Just be patient.
This proved to be a challenge for Manny when he was trying to make a comeback with the A's last year. He told Jorge L. Ortiz of USA Today at the end of May that he was patient and willing to wait for his shot, but he requested and was granted his release barely two weeks later. He didn't see an opening, so he abandoned ship.
Will we see Manny Ramirez in the major leagues in 2013?
The A's had good reasons for not wanting to call Manny up. General manager Billy Beane told the San Jose Mercury News that he feared making an irreversible roster move, and he also hinted that he preferred to keep his roster open for younger players.
A team that signs Manny to a minor league deal now is going to be operating on the same wavelength that the A's were then. They were thinking "nothing to lose" more than they were "something to gain."
As such, it's likely that Manny would find himself in a similar situation if he does indeed find a deal. This time, he'd have to do more than just profess patience. He'd actually have to practice it.
No matter what, it's not going to be an easy or swift road back to the majors for Manny. All one can do is repeat the famous last words of that one bad guy from the movie Taken:
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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