Commentary

Manny unlikely to be the solution

Adding Ramirez is a low-risk move, but the Sox have too many other problems

Updated: August 31, 2010, 11:05 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

I wish I could be in Cleveland to see Manny Ramirez's debut in a White Sox uniform and watch his new team struggle to handle his old team, the lowly Indians.

But I watched Monday's game in my basement, where I plan to catch Ramirez's planned debut as well. It really does emulate the "When do the Buckeyes play?" crowd at Progressive Field, seeing as I'm here by myself.

I filed a more optimistic column as the Sox headed into the bottom of the ninth before Bobby Jenks gave up three runs to send the game into extras Monday.

But there's no reason to think this team is just one hitter away from catching the Twins and making noise in October.

The Sox wound up with a harrowing 10-6 win in the 11 innings after Cleveland took a turn self-destructing, but it didn't feel like a victory, rather a public service announcement on the team's lingering bullpen problems. It was about as fun as a night out at a Carlos Mencia concert, unless you're into that type of thing.

Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star and all-time run producer, certainly could help with the team's penchant for leaving runners on base -- it stranded 16 Monday -- but unless he can pitch a few innings of relief a week, his arrival in Chicago might be the most overrated (in terms of impact) Chicago sports story since we bid for the Olympics. His impact will be similar to Nomar Garciaparra's when he went to the Cubs in 2004.

Still, the news of the day isn't that the White Sox barely beat the woeful Indians to move within four games of idle Minnesota in the American League Central. No, it's the official addition of Ramirez.

The worst-kept secret in baseball was made official Monday when the White Sox were awarded their waiver claim on Ramirez. It was a bold move, aimed at immediate results. It was either a desperate, expensive reach or the equivalent of doubling down on 10 with the dealer showing an ace.

White Sox general manager Kenny Williams loves these kinds of "Kenny being Kenny" risks. He should. Every baseball fan should admire him for being himself.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Christopher HanewinckelAfter his trade to the Dodgers, Manny Ramirez went on a tear. Can he do the same for the White Sox?

If you're in the GM chair and you're not into taking chances, you might as well run the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Williams, as has been discussed, debated and proved ad nauseum, is the kind of general manager every fan wants running his team.

Williams, who played himself in the Sox's reality show, "The Club," didn't exactly hide from the media as Manny-Watch became a hot-button issue for his up-and-down team during its last homestand. Williams met with the media seemingly every day, making sure to not say the wrong thing. He tried to convince everyone that he prefers to lie low and stay off the TV screen, which is laughable. Williams loves the spotlight and he likes to get credit for the moves he makes.

But that's good, too. Out of sight equals out of mind, and Williams and the White Sox don't want to be either one.

Under Williams and Ozzie Guillen, the Sox have morphed from local afterthoughts to a national story. Getting Ramirez, perhaps the most infamous star left in the game, will only do more to bolster their profile.

But what does the team's addition of a 38-year-old designated hitter mean, besides a chance for people to rip Williams for his obsession with mid-1990s Cleveland Indians? (To that, I say it's better than his predilection for collecting modern-day Kansas City Royals.)

Forget Ramirez's hair or his baggy uniform or his dedication to flakiness. The only thing that's important is that Ramirez, when healthy, can still hit. The question is: Will he be in midseason form right now? Because there isn't much time to waste. The Sox need Manny to duplicate his insane tear of when he was dealt to the Dodgers in 2008.

Ramirez has played in only 66 games this season, and he missed more than a month with a leg injury. He's hit .311 with eight homers and 40 RBIs, and he has nearly as many walks (32) as strikeouts (38).

It's not ridiculous to imagine him getting hot and carrying the club like he did two years ago, but this time frame is more condensed and thus fraught with tension. Every game is the most important game of the season.

"He's just another good hitter in our lineup that has a presence and, again, has a history of hitting the best pitchers in the league and in the clutch," Williams said. "He just has to do his part. He doesn't have to carry us."

Ramirez is said to be excited about the move, which is a good sign for Manny-watchers. A happy Manny should be a productive Manny.

You've seen how he acts when he's not happy. Ramirez can sulk with the best of them and poison a clubhouse.

Paul Konerko, who should get a new deal to finish his career with the club, put it best a week or so ago when he said there's not enough time for the clubhouse to be affected by anything Ramirez does, good or bad, so the Manny experience off the field is a moot point.

"Is there a good fit anywhere for a personality like Manny? I'm not saying that in a bad way," Williams said. "I'm just saying if you're looking for the ideal situation to put a personality in, it's not cookie cutter. And what's wrong with a little flair? What's wrong with a little character and having a little fun in the process? As long as Manny plays hard and goes out there and goes about his business as a pro, there will be no issues here. We have a lot of personalities around here in case you haven't noticed."

We have noticed, thanks. Carlos Quentin is a different kind of weird than Ramirez, but Guillen never tires of poking fun at the outfielder's hyper-intense personality. A.J. Pierzynski has been on his best behavior in his walk year, but he's not a wallflower. Guillen, who is more unfiltered than unbalanced, loves railing on his oddball players, and his impression/improv skills are Second City-worthy.

[+] EnlargeManny Ramirez
Andrew Carpenean/US PresswireTruth be told, the White Sox don't have time for Manny Ramirez to become a distraction.

The White Sox have plenty of characters, and Ramirez won't be singled out by reporters.

This move isn't fraught with tension, like the Jim Thome non-signing that might have deepened the gap between Williams and Guillen. It's a short-term deal with really no negatives.

Williams is just throwing around someone else's money, about $3.5 million spread out for the next four years, give or take a shekel. Note: It's not just Jerry Reinsdorf's money. Reinsdorf is merely the chairman of the board. There are a lot of partners paying for a month of Manny. The Sox won't make much back through tickets or promotions, although a club representative told me they should sell a lot of No. 99 T-shirts and jerseys.

If Ramirez hits .300 and the Sox lose the division by six games, this will be a "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" type of move. Williams' addition of Ken Griffey Jr. was a nonfactor until "The Kid-Turned-Old Man" gunned down Michael Cuddyer at home in the 1-0 one-game tiebreaker win over Minnesota to end the 2008 regular season. Last year, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy did nothing.

But, as Williams said, if "we're all wearing rings" thanks to Ramirez's addition, the money owed for a month rental will feel like a steal.

Of course, Williams' talk of rings is a major leap of faith, considering the Sox's status in the divisional race.

I like this deal for obvious reasons, but it hardly gives me confidence the Sox will catch Minnesota, which has a four-game lead in the AL Central with 31 to play.

Coolstandings.com, a statistically oriented prediction website, gave the Sox a 12 percent chance of winning the division before Monday.

I handicapped the team's chances the old-fashioned way: going through the schedule and guessing. The Twins have 19 at home and the Sox 16. I've got the Sox finishing with a 21-10 kick but falling two games short of the Twins, whom I have going 19-12.

Going into Monday's game, the Sox's remaining opponents had a .494 winning percentage, the Twins' .480. Of the 13 games the Twins have left against teams with winning records, only three are on the road, against Chicago. The Sox have three games at Boston this road trip and three at Oakland, along with four at home against the Red Sox at the end of September.

Now that Gordon Beckham might be hurt after getting hit in the wrist Monday night (X-rays were negative, showing only a bruise), the Sox might need Manny's bat to make up for the loss of Beckham, not to mention an uneven bullpen. Is that too much to ask of him?

"He's not going to be a savior," Guillen told reporters in Cleveland. "He will help us, but he can't save us."

No, he can't. Only the Sox can save themselves. Manny can only be Manny. The Sox need to be better than themselves.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.