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Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Manny returns to Dodgers, value stays same


It took four long months, but finally, Manny Ramirez has a team.

Ramirez -- predictably -- will be back with the Dodgers, after he agreed in principle Wednesday to a two-year, $45 million contract, reinstalling him as the team's everyday left fielder and No. 3 hitter.

Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez was the No. 8 player overall in last season's Player Rater.
It's a role in which Ramirez thrived following his trade from the Red Sox on July 31; he batted .410 (87-for-212) with 21 home runs and 63 RBIs in 61 games for the Dodgers, postseason included. Some say it was the result of added motivation to show the Red Sox their mistake in dealing him; some suggest it was his contract-year status. But whatever the reason, Ramirez produced a three-month stretch to rival almost anyone's this decade. That he managed a fourth-place finish in MVP voting in the National League despite only 53 games played for Los Angeles demonstrates his immense impact.

Now, it's highly unlikely that Ramirez will come close to a .400 batting average, an RBI-per-game pace or 50-plus homers in 2009, and some might wonder how motivated he will be with contract security once again. However, since the 36-year-old slugger's deal includes an opt-out clause after this season, might it not suit him to maintain an MVP-caliber performance to improve his contract standing in eight months?

Expect a decline in Ramirez's numbers, although not a devastating one. In his worst season of the past decade, he still hit .296-20-88 hitter in 133 games, and outside of that 2007 campaign, he averaged .322-39-119. That's a potential top-25 fantasy player, and it's not one you should worry about having missed much of the spring. With one month between now and Opening Day, Ramirez should be in playing shape in plenty of time.

For the record, and this draws back to the word "predictably" in the second paragraph, our projections mostly presumed Ramirez would return to L.A. in 2009, meaning little to no change to his draft-day value. We had him forecasted for .319-32-107 numbers and the No. 29 draft position overall, and with his deal now done, you can pick him there -- or perhaps a few spots sooner -- with increased confidence.

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Most hurt by Ramirez's return to Los Angeles is Juan Pierre, who returns to the fourth-outfielder role he occupied following July's trade. Pierre started only 13 of the Dodgers' final 54 regular-season games and one in the playoffs, and didn't seem at all himself on the base paths, stealing only four of 10 chances (playoffs included). He no longer is mixed league worthy and brings only fourth- or fifth-outfielder value to NL-only leagues based on the prospect he can steal 20 or so bases in a reserve role.

Another tasty tidbit: If Orlando Hudson hits second as has been rumored, he perhaps will benefit most from Ramirez's return, getting a boost in runs scored and better pitches to hit. Once the top 10 second basemen are off the board, don't wait much longer to grab Hudson, a potential value especially in NL-only formats.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.