It just goes to show what depths teams are willing to sink to to find a righthanded power bat.
The Texas Rangers signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract on Wednesday, and he’ll report to Triple A Round Rock Thursday. General manager Jon Daniels said he’s taking a “flier” on Ramirez after conferring with former Red Sox batting coach Dave Magadan, who is now Rangers’ batting coach. Daniels and his staff will monitor the whole ball of wax with Ramirez, how he fits, how he’s performing, and what his attitude is like.
No guarantees. There never are with Manny.
The biggest thing is, can he still hit? Those who have seen him recently say, “Yes, he can.”
Padres GM Josh Byrnes saw Ramirez in the Dominican Republic last winter, and was around Ramirez for nine seasons with the Indians and Red Sox, and Byrnes saw a pretty good hitter, even at age 41.
Ramirez played this season for the EDA Rhinos in Taiwan, where he batted .352 with 8 home runs, 13 doubles, and 43 RBIs. He left the team June 19 to pursue other opportunities. He had an offer to join the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, but was hoping for a major league job. For now, he’s got a minor league one.
“He has to earn our consideration first,” Daniels told the Dallas media.
It’s unknown whether other major league teams inquired. The Rangers didn’t scout Ramirez, instead basing their decision on video and sources in Taiwan.
Baltimore GM Dan Duquette, who signed Ramirez to a seven-year, $120 million free agent deal for the Red Sox in December 2000, said he did not consider Ramirez for the Orioles this season, but acknowledged considering him last year when he was looking for a bat.
“Good for Manny,” Duquette said when told of the news.
Ramirez is said to have turned his life around after a few years of poor behavior, which included two positive steroid tests. One more strike and Ramirez is out of baseball for good, so this is indeed his last tango.
Coincidentally, the Rangers have a possible suspension of Nelson Cruz, their top righthanded power hitter, hanging over their heads because of the Biogenesis scandal. Cruz, speaking to reporters in Dallas, said he saw Ramirez hit two homers in a game last winter in the Dominican — one to left field and one to right — and it looked like the same Ramirez to him.
Back in spring training, I spoke to David Segui, a former major leaguer and admitted performance-enhancing drug user. Segui spent the offseason working with Ramirez at his hitting school in Kansas City, Mo.
“We just broke down his swing,” Segui said. “He had gotten into the bad habit of how they teach hitting now, and that is keeping your hands back and putting your weight on your back leg. Manny was always the most successful when everything was out front, and we got him back to that. He’s a tremendous hitter and I think he’s back doing what he did when he was a younger player.
“Just being around him, you could see he’s turned his life around. He’s into the Bible. I think he realized how close he came to losing his family and he changed. He loves the game of baseball and he’ll play for the love of it. He’s made all the money he ever needs.”
Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star, is a career .312 hitter with a .411 on-base percentage and .585 slugging percentage.
Ramirez even agreed to abide by the Rangers’ minor league rule of short hair.
“We’ll see what happens,” Daniels said.
Ramirez appeared in five games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, then retired before official word came down of a 100-game suspension for a second positive test. When he wanted to return, Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed he would serve a 50-game suspension, and Ramirez played in the minors for Oakland in 2012 before asking for his release in June.
“He’s a born-again guy,” Magadan told reporters. “That’s a big part of his life. Hopefully, that changes him in a good way. It usually does.”
“The Bible says that we have to be passed through the fire to see what we’re made of. I went through the fire and then came my blessing,” Ramirez told Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.
Most baseball people expect Ramirez to make it back to the majors because of his ability. The Rangers could use Ramirez as their DH and move Lance Berkman to first base. Regardless, his bat would be welcome.
“I’m not surprised by anything anymore,” said Mets special assistant to the GM J.P. Ricciardi.
There are certainly those who wouldn’t have touched Ramirez with a 10-foot pole. There were a lot of negative reactions to Ramirez even returning to American professional baseball. The Giants, you’ll remember, wouldn’t let Melky Cabrera come back to their team for the playoffs after he tested positive for testosterone and had to serve a 50-game suspension.
The Yankees, in desperate need of a righthanded bat, will get Alex Rodriguez back soon if he gets through his rehab games all right. Righthanded bats are in demand. The Padres even ignored Carlos Quentin’s injury history because he’s a powerful, effective righthanded bat. Veteran Michael Young is another righthanded hitter who may soon be in demand.
David Ortiz, who watched Ramirez play in the Dominican last winter, knows his former teammate can still hit.
“I hope he could make it back and put the past in the past,” Ortiz said. “That’s up to Manny. He can control what happens from here. If he can prove he can hit and play the game right, he’ll be back. I wish him well.”
Texas would seem to be a good fit for Ramirez because of manager Ron Washington, who is outstanding with managing high-profile players. He did a great job with Josh Hamilton, and would likely be a good influence on Ramirez.
There are some who believe Ramirez should never be allowed back in a major league uniform, but the penalties for positive tests are in place with the collective bargaining agreement.
Ramirez will indeed control his own fate.
Is he strong enough now to resist temptation?Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.