We’ve heard quite a bit this offseason about the Indians’ need for a right-handed bat. A decent hitter who could hold down the fort at DH against left-handed pitchers or when Travis Hafner needs a rest and be able to step in at first base or the outfield in a pinch would be just what the doctor ordered for the Tribe.
Unfortunately, he’d have to come cheap. We’ve heard that the team has some money to spend, but not very much of it. Unless they wait to scrounge for free agent leftovers right before spring training, the only way the Indians will be able to afford a potentially valuable player is if the other 29 teams don’t want him.
Crazy as it sounds, there’s one name that seems like a pretty clear fit here: Manny Ramirez.
It’s no mystery why Ramirez isn’t getting much interest this winter. He’s a true liability in the field, and he isn’t the hitter he once was. He’ll be 40 in May, and he went 1-for-17 with Tampa Bay this year. Oh, also he hasn’t played an MLB game since April and he’ll start the 2012 season facing a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned substance for the second time last season.
But is that really enough reason to dismiss him completely? No, seriously. Is it?
Forget about his poor performance last season—you don’t judge a player by five games. We’re talking about a guy who never had his wRC+ sink below 121 in any of the 17 seasons in which he got significant playing time. His OPS has never slipped below .870, and his slugging percentage has only twice fallen below .500.
In 2010, the year in which we were told we were witnessing his dramatic decline, he hit .298/.409/.480 (138 wRC+). He was supposedly washed up, yet he provided more than a win above replacement in just 90 games despite being a terrible fielder and baserunner. Even if he isn’t the hitter he once was, a player with such a consistently excellent bat could probably still cause pitchers some trouble.
If we make the conservative assumption that Manny would hit a home run every 30 plate appearances (he’s done better than that in 18 of his 19 MLB seasons) and use his career plate discipline numbers and BABIP (if anything, those numbers have improved as he’s aged), our Simple WAR Calculator has him at 2.7 wins above replacement over a full season at DH. That would put him about on par with what Victor Martinez, Paul Konerko, and Andre Ethier did in 2011.
Even if you knock him down to a part-time player and account for the time he’d miss during his suspension—let’s say he’d play 75 games and 300 plate appearances—he’d be on pace for 1.3 WAR. In other words, he’d be roughly as valuable to the Indians as Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo, and Hafner were last year.
Maybe my input projections are a tad optimistic, but they’re definitely plausible. You can knock his numbers down a little more since he missed most of last year—I’m not sure how much of a difference that would really make. But even if he doesn’t actually match the 139 wRC+ we projected, he’d still be a useful bat to have on the bench.
Nor should his suspension necessarily be a deal-breaker. Grady Sizemore missed a lot more than 50 games in 2011. So did Hafner and Choo. His initial unavailability lessens his value, but it doesn’t eliminate it. Ramirez joining the team at the end of May would be like a mid-season deal in which the Indians don’t have to trade anyone.
And this intimidating hitter who projects as an above-average MLB player wouldn’t cost much at all. Ramirez is so desperate to find a new home that he’s reportedly calling teams to see if they’re interested. He had to settle for $2 million last winter, and considering he’s a much less attractive commodity now he’d be lucky to sign for much more than the MLB minimum. He’s even willing to consider a minor-league deal. If Cleveland is willing to sign low-ceiling depth guys like Andy LaRoche and Felix Pie, why not Manny? Surely he has a higher ceiling than Jose Lopez?
Call him old, call him a cheater, call him unfocused—fine. But Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters of his generation, and if he has anything left in his tank he could be an extremely useful roster complement. With such a low risk and potentially high reward, it’d be well worth Chris Antonetti’s while to give him a call.