Tampa Bay Rays: Can Manny Be Manny One More Time to Extend His Career?

Brandon McClintockCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2011

Associated Press
Associated Press

Twenty years have passed since the Cleveland Indians selected Manny Ramirez in the first round of the 1991 amateur draft, launching what would become a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Ramirez struggled to find work this past offseason before signing a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Ramirez has been a consistent producer with a bat since his debut with Cleveland in 1993. In recent years, injuries (and suspensions) have taken their toll on the slugger and decreased his power numbers, leading some to wonder: Is Manny still capable of being Manny?

Two years after being drafted by the Indians, Ramirez would find himself playing in the Majors at the age of 21. Manny would play in four All-Star games representing Cleveland and win three Silver Slugger awards. Ramirez would hit 236 career home runs for the Indians while only once posting a batting average under .300 in a full season.

After signing with the Boston Red Sox following the 2000 season, Ramirez would lead the Red Sox to two World Series championships in 2004 and 2007. Manny was the World Series MVP in the 2004 series. As a member of the Red Sox, Ramirez would add 274 career home runs and appear in eight All-Star games.

While playing for Boston, Manny would become as famous for his quirky personality as he would for his dominating presence at the plate. Ramirez’s antics, which ranged from disappearing inside the Green Monster during a pitching change to wearing MP3 sunglasses while on the field were given the endearing term “Manny being Manny.”

“Manny being Manny” eventually lost its charm in Boston, and the Red Sox practically gave him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 just to get him out of its clubhouse.

The move paid huge rewards for both the Dodgers and Red Sox, propelling both clubs back into the playoffs. The Red Sox went on to lose to the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series, while Manny elevated the Dodger’s team into the playoffs with his dominant resurgence at the plate.

Manny added 44 more home runs to his career total while playing for the Dodgers. He was also busted and suspended by Major League baseball for the use of a woman’s fertility drug allegedly used to mask the use of steroids. The women’s fertility drug was listed on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list.

Following his suspension, Ramirez has not quite been the same player. When he has managed to stay on the field he has continued to produce, although his power seems to have decreased.

Ramirez was placed on waivers by the Dodgers last season and claimed by the Chicago White Sox. In 24 games for the White Sox, Manny managed only a .261 batting average with only one home run and two RBI. He had put together a respectable season while playing for the Dodgers prior to his waiver claim, however. In 66 games for the Dodgers, Ramirez hit .311 with eight home runs and 40 RBI.

In 2010, he missed a total of 60 games due to injuries. Injuries have taken their toll on his production as he has had more trouble preventing nagging injuries that seem to linger as he is progressed further into his late 30s.

The Tampa Bay Rays are counting on Ramirez to stay healthy and resurrect his career to his production levels before he was forced to serve his 50-game suspension. While they want the old Manny back in terms of what he brings as a baseball player, they would prefer if he left the baggage behind.

The Rays signed Manny to be their primary designated hitter, with the hope that not having to play the field will keep his 39-year-old body healthy enough to make it through the entire season injury-free.

The Rays are counting on Ramirez and their other offseason acquisition, Johnny Damon, to provide offense to help replace the losses of Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford.

The Rays' signing of Ramirez for only $2 million was one of the best offseason signings. Ramirez is clearly a high-risk, high-reward player, as he has worn out his welcome with both the Red Sox and Dodgers, yet produced on the diamond everywhere he has played.

If Ramirez returns to previous form and produces close to his career averages, then his $2 million price tag will seem like a steal. On the flip side, if he reverts to the player that brought so much baggage with him that the Red Sox and Dodgers were happy to dump him for no return, than the Rays will easily be able to justify dropping his services as well with such a cheap price tag attached.

So far Ramirez has been doing all of the right things with the Rays.

"He's making a lot of statements, little subtle stuff,'' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said to ESPN's Gordan Edes. “Running hard to first base, working his ass off on defense. One day he was playing, and was scheduled to be off the next day. After his second at-bat, he said, 'How about if I play tomorrow?' He put himself in the lineup. A couple of days ago, I gave four guys the day off completely. Don't even show up, him being one of them. He was in the cage anyway, the next morning. He's been awesome.''

After struggling to find work this past offseason, the argument could be made that Manny needs to re-establish himself this season if he wants to earn another contract beyond this season. Maddon claims that money is no longer the motivating factor for Ramirez however.

"His comments have been that he's made his money. He's made his money, and now he just wants to compete and play. He's said that to me at least 15 times already. Manny is looking to re-establish himself after last year. He's in better shape, he's extremely motivated, I think he likes it here already, I think he's digging it, I think we have a great staff to interact with him, I think we have a lot of things working in our favor here as well as where he's at in his career right now to make it a good season,'' Maddon told Edes.

For the sake of the Rays offense, let’s hope Manny is capable of being Manny for at least one more year. Oh, but he can leave the “Manny being Manny” stuff behind, if that makes any sense…