The Manny Ramirez Option

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There’s nothing more tempting to fans than a future Hall of Famer on the free agent market, especially after they’ve watched him do unheard of amounts of damage to their favorite team for the last decade. “I want that guy to do that in our uniform” is the feeling, and for the last three years there’s been a decently sized contingent of Yankee fans that have pined for Manny Ramirez in pinstripes. If you’re reading this site, then you’re no doubt very, very familiar with Mr. Ramirez, perhaps more familiar with him than you care to be. He tormented the Yankees for years, hitting .322/.413/.607 (.422 wOBA) with 51 homers in 861 career plate appearances against them. That’s MVP caliber production over a year-and-a-half worth of plate appearances.

Manny is a free agent this offseason, two years after his last crack at the open market. Over the summer he was placed on waivers and claimed by the White Sox, meaning that even if the Yanks wanted to claim him, they didn’t get the chance since the ChiSox had a higher priority. Just three years ago he posted a .432 wOBA, whacking 37 homers with the Sox and Dodgers. The “Manny quit on Boston” narrative is blatantly untrue; he had a .398 wOBA with the Sox that year, and hit .407/.500/.712 (.480 wOBA) in the weeks leading up to the trade. If only every player would quit on his team like that. Yeah, Ramirez has had more than his fair share of off-the-field issues that have occasionally spilled over into his on-the-field effort, but he was a baseball mashing machine.

The problem is that over the last two seasons, the baseball mashing has occurred with less and less frequency. After averaging 39.75 homers per year from 1996 through 2008, Manny dipped down to just 19 homers in 2009 and then just nine this year. After a solid but injury plagued effort with the Dodgers (.393 wOBA in 232 plate appearances) this season, he really dropped off with the White Sox, picking up just two extra base hits in 88 plate appearances. His .353 wOBA with Chicago is inflated by five hit by pitches; if we remove those, he drops down to a .314 wOBA. Here’s a graphical look at his power decline…

The Fall of Manny Ramirez.

Buster Olney thought it would be a good fit to poll various talent evaluators around the league to see what everyone thinks of Manny at this point in his career. It’s behind the iron curtain of Insider, but for the most part all of their opinions can be summed up by: “he’s a DH,” “solid bat, mid-.800 OPS guy,” “incentive-laden deal,” and “slow.” One called him a healthier version of Nick Johnson, meaning his offensive value stems from the ability to control the strike zone and get on base rather than drive the ball with authority.

The Yankees need a replacement for Marcus Thames, some kind of right-handed bat that will crush lefties, but Ramirez isn’t that guy. Not now anyway, it just doesn’t make sense. Manny offers negative defensive value and in fact the health of his legs is a concern (he was on the DL three times with leg related issues in 2010), so he probably couldn’t even play the field in an emergency spot. They’d be wasting one of three non-backup catcher bench spots on a guy that couldn’t do anything other than walk to the plate and occasionally run the bases. He would also take at-bats away from Jorge Posada as the DH, which in turn would take at-bats away from Jesus Montero, which is clearly bad for the long-term outlook of the franchise.

Manny is first ballot Hall of Fame lock, one of the greatest right-handed hitters we’ll ever see, but there’s no place for him on the Yankees at this time. They need someone more flexible defensively and frankly a little cheaper to be in a reserve role, not someone used to playing everyday that could become a distraction if things don’t go his way. I fully respect Manny’s absurd career accomplishments (how the hell did he never a) win an MVP, or b) finish higher than third in the voting?), but there’s no fit here. The Manny Ramirez option is a non-option for New York.

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Manny’s story raises more PED questions

For starters, apologies for a second-straight PED post. We try to keep these topics to a minimum, but since Manny Ramirez was suspended last week, a number of issues have come to light. These issues are important in preventing future PED usage, not in any past witch hunts, which is why I’m going to run with this.

As you can see in the above-linked post, reports ran rampant upon the announcement of Manny’s suspension. It’s pot; no, it’s an ED drug; no it’s a fertility drug. Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn of ESPN have laid out the whole story, from Manny’s failed test to the ensuing investigation, even covering the planned appeal and its eventual dropping. If you’re interested in how Manny actually got caught, give it a read. It explains everything rather succinctly.

Just as it is difficult to believe that A-Rod stopped using steroids after the 2003 test, it’s equally difficult to believe this was the first time Manny used. There’s no use speculating exactly how long he used, so we’ll skip that part. Let’s just take it for granted that both A-Rod and Manny used outside of the timeframe when they were caught. How, then, are they skirting the tests? This is the most important question to arise from the collective incidences.

Major League Baseball’s drug testing program, while not the strictest on the books, trumps those of the three other major American sports. Yet the Manny issue highlights its deficiencies. Unfortunately, it’s going to take plenty more research to determine how these players are skirting tests. Are they only using in the off-season? Manny’s case could point to that. MLB found synthetic testosterone in his system, and his medical records revealed a prescription for hCG, a drug taken by steroid users coming off a cycle, in order to kickstart natural testosterone production. Does this indicate that players are using in the off-season, cycling off just before the round of Spring Training tests, and using drugs like hCG to restore normal testosterone levels?

The use of masking agents is another possibility. Steroid tests compare the ratio of testosterone and epitestosterone in a urine sample, with a 1:1 ratio being normal and a 4:1 ratio signaling foul play. A masking agent, then, could simulate epitestosterone in order to make the test look normal. This could be a problem for the testing program, since they’d then have to figure out what kind of masking agent would produce such an effect. Then they’d have to create a test for it which could be determined from urine alone, since we know blood testing isn’t an option at the moment.

While the current drug testing policy works well to keep normal steroid use in check, MLB still has a ways to go in further combatting PED use. If they’re truly committed to eradicating the sport of steroids and amphetamines, they’ll do whatever it takes to understand how players are beating tests. I’d expect many PED-related issues to arise when the PA and owners sit down for the next collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately for the players, they’re not going to have a ton of leverage on this issue.

Breaking: Manny suspended 50 games for PEDs

News just broke on SportsCenter. More as it comes.

Update (11:48am): LA Times has the news.

Update (11:52am): From the LAT article:

Ramirez is expected to attribute the test results to medication received from a doctor for a personal medical issue, according to a source familiar with matter but not authorized to speak publicly.

Update (12:21pm): Okay, so now basically everyone involved, including Manny and Boras, are saying the positive test was triggered by a medication prescribed for a personal issue by a doctor in Miami. Regardless, banned substances are banned substances, and Manny will serve the suspension starting tonight. I suspect we’ll hear absolutely nothing about the possibility of Boston’s recent titles being tainted.

Update (12:36pm): Manny issued a statement, basically saying that it was a prescribed medication and that he’s been advised not to say anything else. He did note that he’s taken – and passed – about 15 other tests over the last few years. The statement is available here as a PDF.

Update by Ben (12:50pm): Per Will Carroll’s Twitter, Manny was suspended under section 8.G.2 of the drug agreement. This provision allows for a suspension if a player tests positive for controlled substances, PEDs or stimulants not enumerated in the prior Section 8 terms. (The JDA is available here as a PDF.)

So basically, it sounds as though Manny has been suspended for something other than a PED, a stimulant or marijuana. It could be HGH; it could be something less serious. Either way, the suspension was at the discretion of Bud Selig. Something big happened here.

Update by Ben (1:56 pm): Yahoo! Sports reports that the banned substance was a sexual performance enhancing drug. It isn’t Viagra but rather, as Steve Henson and Tim Brown report, “a substance that treats the cause rather providing a temporary boost in sexual performance, the source said.” What the cause could be is anyone’s guess.

Update by Ben (2:12 pm): ESPN reports that the fertility drug Manny was using is a steroid booster. The Worldwide Leader writes, “HCG is a women’s fertility drug typically used by steroid users to restart their body’s natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle.” This could blow up even more.

Manny’s long national nightmare almost over

Somehow, someway, in a bad economy with no other potential suitors, Scott Boras is going to get Manny Ramirez his millions. According to numerous reports — rounded up by MLBTR — Manny and the Dodgers are soon going to agree to a two-year, $45-million deal. Included in this deal with be a one-year opt-out that Manny can exploit if he and Boras feel his 2009 performance and the 2009-2010 market warrant it. That the Dodgers would do this deal at this price point with an opt-out is a bit mind-boggling. Meanwhile, the Yanks have some outfield holes to fill next year, and either Matt Holliday or Manny Ramirez could wind up the beneficiary of some Bronx bucks. I’m sure the thought has occurred to Mr. Boras already.

Manny rejects Dodgers again for the fourth time

Ed. Note: The post originally scheduled for the overnight — about the new patch on the Yankee hats — will be back at 9:30 a.m. Since Manny’s rejection is timely, we wanted to toss this up as soon as we could.

I’m beginning to wonder if Manuel Aristides Ramirez actually wants to play baseball this year. For the fourth time this winter, Manny and Scott Boras have rejected an offer from the Dodgers. The latest one was a one-year offer for $25 million with a player option for 2010 at $20 million, and from the sound of it, Frank McCourt isn’t too keen to jump back to the table.

“We love Manny Ramirez,” the Dodgers owner said in a statement last night. “And we want Manny back, but we feel we are negotiating against ourselves. When his agent finds those ‘serious offers’ from other clubs, we’ll be happy to re-start the negotiations. Even with an economy that has substantially eroded since last November, out of respect for Manny and his talents, we actually improved our offer. So now, we start from scratch.”

While the Giants remain on the periphery of the Great Manny Chase, I’m beginning to wonder if Manny isn’t going to be somewhat forced to sit out. By rejecting the Dodgers again, Boras has made sure that he won’t get a comparable offer from any time. Maybe Manny should stay in top shape and wait until teams come a-knockin’ in June for that playoff drive push. Who knows which team might be able to use one of the game’s best right-handed sluggers ever by then?