Manny being obvious
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Never one to waste time or words, Manny got right to the business of being Manny on Monday. If his goal was to ignite a media firestorm, well, he certainly accomplished that.
But what else did Manny Ramirez accomplish with his curiously timed declaration that this will be his final year with the Dodgers?
On its face, what he said was hardly shocking. It is difficult to imagine him being back with the club, or any other National League club, in 2011. While it's far too early to make a final judgment, his high-end contract looks like a bust at this point, what with that 50-game suspension and that late-season flameout last year. His soon-to-be-38-year-old legs aren't well suited to the rigors of everyday outfield play. In a nutshell, he is a designated hitter looking for a place to happen, and that isn't going to happen at Chavez Ravine.
Indeed, Ramirez was merely stating the obvious. But it was one of his first statements in his first interview of the spring made it the latest Manny-being-Manny moment in an 18-year career that has been full of them.
"I already accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish,'' Ramirez said, as casually as he possibly could have said it. "For me, all this is just extra. I know I'm not going to be here next year, so I just want to enjoy myself.''
Ramirez indicated that he hasn't ruled out retiring after the season, saying he'll base that decision on what is best for his family and his aging body. And that might be an indication of a deeper issue with Ramirez than his apparent dismissal of any possibility he will still be wearing a Dodgers uniform in 2011.
In short, Ramirez sounded like a man who believed that his best days as a ballplayer were behind him. And that isn't good news for a Dodgers team that, despite having a fairly deep lineup, still desperately needs for Ramirez to get back to his old, pre-suspension self.
Ramirez wasn't quite the same after he returned last season. The guy who was hitting .348 at the time of his suspension finished the season at .290; the guy who hit six homers and drove in 20 runs in 27 games before his suspension hit just 13 and drove in just 43 in the 77 games after his return. He wasn't anything close to the game-changing presence in the middle of the lineup that he had been when the Dodgers acquired him from the Boston Red Sox at the 2008 trading deadline.
But if Ramirez really did suffer a drop in confidence as a result of all that, he certainly didn't sound on Monday like a guy who had suddenly, miraculously regained his mojo.
"I'm not 23 anymore,'' he said.
But he hasn't been 23 for a long, long time. Twenty-three for Ramirez was almost 500 homers ago. Twenty-three for Ramirez was two teams ago, two World Series titles ago, three multi-year contracts ago. Twenty-three for Ramirez was almost $200 million in career earnings ago.
The Dodgers don't care about 23. And while it's true they had no idea at the time that they would lose him for those 50 games last season, when the Dodgers signed him to that two-year, $45 million contract last March, they did so believing he also would be pretty good at 38, the age he will turn in a little more than three months.
The one thing that shouldn't be lacking for Ramirez is motivation. Despite his claim that he has accomplished all he wants to in the game, another World Series title isn't entirely inconceivable. And besides, if he has a big year offensively, there might even be a market for him next winter, when he is eligible for free agency.
"I hope he will be one of the premier free agents on the market,'' Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "That will mean he had a great year for the Dodgers.''
The flip side to that is that if Ramirez does have a great year, there will be considerable public pressure on the Dodgers to re-sign him, just as there was last winter. Even so -- and even though the Dodgers don't have an heir to the starting leftfield job who is anywhere close to being ready for prime time -- that might be a good time for the club to cut the cord, especially because Ramirez already seems more suited to the other league.
The strong likelihood is that Ramirez's statement was correct, that he is, in fact, entering his final season with the Dodgers. That was true before he said it, it was true afterward, and it will remain true all season, no matter what Ramirez does on the field. It was true almost from the moment the Dodgers signed him last spring to that contract, the bulk of which they will still be paying off long after he is gone.
But the fact Ramirez chose his first day in camp to point that out only underscores the fact that even if 2010 is his Los Angeles swan song, there is an awful lot of 2010 still ahead. There is still plenty of time for Ramirez to create a few more special memories, to produce a few more unforgettable moments, and there is still plenty of time for the Dodgers to reap the benefits of having him around.
The post-Manny era will come soon enough. But for now, Manny still has a lot of being Manny left to do.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Send him your questions and comments.
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