Indians Need Better Reasons for Ignoring Manny Ramirez


We’ve been hearing for weeks that Manny Ramirez wants to make a comeback. The 39-year-old slugger could be a fantastic low-risk, high-reward signing: he comes with some personal baggage and will start the season with a 50-game suspension, but at the same time he’s one of the greatest hitters of his generation and he could probably be signed for the league minimum.

We’ve already made the case for why Ramirez would be a great fit in Cleveland: he’s a cheap, right-handed power hitter with huge upside. But it was clear that the Indians didn’t have any want him simply because they hadn’t signed him—given that no one seems to be seriously interested in him, they could presumably have gotten him by now if they’d cared to.

Last week, Indians GM Chris Antonetti made it official, telling a group of reporters that Ramirez wasn’t a serious target for the Tribe. It was disappointing to actually hear it from the horse’s mouth, but the real head scratcher was the reason:

"“With where we are, it’s probably not the best positional fit for us,” Antonetti said. “Manny, his contributions would be more in the batter’s box, and we already have a DH.”"

There are a lot of arguments against signing Manny. He’s been caught and punished twice for using banned substances, and he’ll miss the first 50 games of the season serving a suspension for the test he failed last season. He’s not as good as he used to be. It’s unclear how fans would react to seeing him back in Cleveland. He’s got a big ego, and his antics might be a bit of a clubhouse distraction. I wouldn’t consider any of these to be deal-breakers when considering giving a great hitter a one-year, low-salary contract, but I can certainly see why other people would.

But to say that Ramirez wouldn’t be a fit because of Travis Hafner? Like his suspension and attention-seeking nature, that Hafner is on the roster makes Manny less potentially valuable. But does it really make him worthless?

Here’s the thing about Hafner: he’s not a full-time player, and he hasn’t been for quite some time. He missed 68 games last season—that’s 18 more than Manny will miss with his suspension, by the way—and made only 85 starts. And that was a relatively healthy year: Pronk hasn’t topped 118 games played since 2007, and in that span he’s averaged just 91 games and 84 starts per season.

If that rate holds steady, even ignoring away interleague series that makes 69 games in which someone else will have to DH. And that’s assuming his health problems don’t get worse as he enters his age-35 season. Hafner is going to miss a significant amount of time this year, so isn’t it worth worrying about who will replace him?

Shelley Duncan is probably next in line for DH at-bats at this point, but even in his breakout season last year he wasn’t as good as Ramirez in 2010, when he was supposedly washed up. Grady Sizemore could see some time there, but if his plate discipline struggles continue he won’t be a good enough hitter to hold down the DH spot, plus there’s a decent chance he’ll miss some significant time in 2012 too.

So then the DH duties will fall to…Andy LaRoche? Jose Lopez? Jason Donald? Aaron Cunningham? Do any of those names have the offensive prowess to be valuable players from the DH spot? And would any of them be better than Manny?

Antonetti’s reasoning is especially confusing considering some of the other moves the team has made this winter. The Indians had at least five legitimate outfielders on the roster before they traded for Cunningham and signing Pie. LaRoche got an invitation to spring training even though there are already two third basemen (Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan) on the team, and even if Lopez was signed with a bench spot in mind he’s no better than the Tribe’s third-best utility infielder (behind Donald and Cord Phelps).

None of those players were good “positional fits” in Cleveland. Plus, with the possible exception of Cunningham, I’d project Ramirez to be better than all the other cheap players acquisitions the Indians have acquired this winter. So why is he the only one who Antonetti won’t consider?

And what do the Indians have to lose? Ramirez could probably be had for the league minimum, if not a minor-league deal. If it’s the former, even Cleveland’s bank account won’t be broken if a $400,000 player investment doesn’t work out. And if it’s the latter, a single player’s minor-league salary is a drop in the bucket for an MLB team.

Yes, the Indians have a DH, but they’ll need someone to fill Hafner’s shoes when he’s not in the lineup. Declining to sign a free agent who seems like a fantastic fit because he doesn’t have an immediate place in the lineup isn’t just short-sighted, it goes against what the team has been doing all winter.

If Antonetti & Co. don’t want Ramirez, I can respect that. Again, there are plenty of other legitimate reasons for front office executives to be hesitant to bring Manny aboard. But dismissing him because Hafner is on the roster just doesn’t make sense. If we’re going to snub a potential free agent steal, we should at least have a better reason for it.

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