The speculation continues to swirl around the future of the Red Sox's All-Star left fielder, Manny Ramirez, and whether the Red Sox will pick up the $20 million option on the slugger for 2009.
Picking up the option gives the Red Sox a pretty dependable 30 HR, 100 RBI performance, which they love. But they also would have to continue to endure his often child-like behavior, which they don’t love.
The 15-year veteran’s frequent annoying and embarrassing antics resemble that of a poorly parented eight-year old that doesn’t know how to behave in public.
The truth about Manny Ramirez is that he's like the Mike Tyson of baseball. He may say and do a lot of entertaining things, both in and out of the ring—but you never know what personally-crafted disaster may be around the corner.
Manny Ramirez is as feared by opponents on the baseball diamond as Tyson was in the ring (until Buster Douglas showed up). The difference is that Manny is surrounded by a very tight, stable, network of family, agents, and team officials who manage his personal negatives and keep both him and us protected.
Tyson was surrounded only by the protective arms of...ummm...Don King.
“Manny being Manny” has evolved into the perfect phrase for the left fielder because no matter what he does, both good and bad, the phrase fits. It’s the fans' way of expressing pride in the good things he does with his bat, and it is also their comfort food during his embarrassing episodes, which are otherwise hard to stomach.
The good is Manny catching a flyball and high-fiving a fan in the stands before bouncing off the wall and turning two. The bad is Manny calling out Sox ownership in front of the world at the All-Star Game or knocking down a senior citizen and team employee because he can’t get his way.
So what will GM Theo Epstein recommend to the Henry-Werner-Lucchino ownership team in terms of exercising Ramirez’s option at the end of the season?
In the world of paying $20 million to an outfielder, there is no doubt that home runs, RBI, slugging, and on-base percentage all talk much louder than any level of goofy or unpredictable personal conduct.
Since Ramirez signed his eight-year, $160 million contract, he has been very dependable at bringing in 30 HR, 100 RBI, and a .300 BA. But could the all-time postseason home-run leader have delivered more?
His poor defensive play in left field is often overlooked...but statistically, he is one of the worst defenders in the game. Offensively, his resume also has some holes, which seem to be getting bigger.
In 2006, Manny hit 100 RBI and 30+ HR, but then purposefully tanked the better part of September when it looked like the Sox were out of it and he refused to play.
Last season, despite being a key to the Sox winning the 2007 World Series, he only hit 20 HR and 88 RBI...his lowest numbers since 1994, which was his first full season in the majors. Many feel that this could be the new baseline for an aging Manny...thus reducing his overall value even more.
These concerns, and Manny’s contract situation, lend credence to the belief that new agent Scott Boras inspired a "Manny-improvement plan" which the slugger appears to have begun implementing this past winter.
The "Reinvent Manny" plan seems to have had several principles:
1) Show you are committed to your team and your individual performance by working hard in the offseason.
2) Have a record year at the plate in 2008 (NOTE: Jason Varitek’s reinvention list obviously didn’t have this one).
3) Clean up your intangibles; make the Red Sox WANT to bring you back.
From the looks of things at midseason, Manny has overall failed in this plan to reinvent himself.
To his credit, Manny was very committed in the offseason, working out under professional supervision and with some hitting and clubhouse video/mental work to reduce his on-field blunders. As a result, offensively he is en route to a very good year at the plate.
But his bonehead errors in the field and his half-heartedness on the basepaths continue.
Manny may be admiring his home runs a little less (and even his flyball outs) and "jogging" a bit more around the base, but on infield ground balls, he continues to disappoint. Manny continues to fail to exert the hustle needed to avoid being thrown out on plays that marginal players make every day.
As for his intangibles, Manny is talking to the media more often and he started working on his interpersonal mojo in Spring Training by reading the bestseller THE SECRET (we know for sure he was at least looking at the pictures).
Minor alarms first went off after Ramirez’ shoving match in the Boston dugout with the always high-strung Kevin Youkilis. Then the line of acceptable behavior was crossed irreversibly on June 30 in Houston when Manny Ramirez knocked down Red Sox's traveling secretary, Jack McCormick, over a large and last minute personal ticket request for that night’s game.
According to conflicting Boston news sources, Ramirez was reportedly fined somewhere between $10-100K by the club over the incident, agreed to attend anger management, and now all supposedly has been righted. But assaulting a senior citizen is the first incident that even the most loyal of fans can’t explain away with "Manny being Manny".
If more incidents like this one occur, the 2004 World Series MVP may leave Red Sox management with no choice but to try and fill his spot in the lineup with someone not as good, but thankfully half as crazy.
Right now, there are several major questions for Boston fans, management, and Manny himself:
1) Does David Ortiz come back and restore the Ortiz-Ramirez combo that has wreaked havoc on pitchers across the American League? A healthy and hot Ortiz could change the equation a bit when it comes to Manny.
2) Will Manny continue his current strong offensive numbers and possibly lead the Red Sox to victory again in the World Series? If the Red Sox ride Manny to another championship, it may be tougher for them to not exercise his $20M option.
3) Most importantly, can the Red Sox find another outfielder on the free-agent market that will give them 30 HR, 100 RBI, and a better glove in left field for $20 million a year?
They also have to replace a postseason force in Ramirez, who most recently hit .348 in the World Series with four HR and 16 RBI in four games.
The list right now for that task seems both thin and complicated. Cincinnati’s Adam Dunn, Colorado’s Matt Holliday, Philadelphia’s Pat Burrell, or Atlanta’s Mark Teixeira are players that have been discussed as possible candidates.
4) Instead of going outside for help, do the Red Sox rely on their current non-Manny outfield package of Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury, and J.D. Drew, with additional help from youngster Brandon Moss?
5) Finally, if Manny’s not valuable enough for the Red Sox to exercise the one-year option on him...do the Red Sox really want to risk facing him 20 times a year as a Yankee?
As the season plays out, the answers to those questions will help determine whether, in 2009, Red Sox fans will find "Manny being Manny"...somewhere else.