Which Manny will Manny Ramirez be?
"I know I'm not going to be here next year."
That's what Manny Ramirez told the Los Angeles Times when he reported to spring training this season -- and that's what scares me to death when it comes to figuring out whether I want to draft the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder for my fantasy team.
We've all heard the phrase "Manny being Manny" used over the years, and that expression can cut both ways. Sometimes it refers to his often flaky and a bit endearing behavior, such as when he left a paycheck behind in a visiting clubhouse or when he almost missed a play by venturing into the Green Monster for a bathroom break.
However, sometimes the expression comes without any sense of whimsy, as it did when it was clear Ramirez wanted out of the Boston Red Sox and said he had a knee injury, which forced him to miss two games -- a knee injury that also mysteriously moved back and forth from leg to leg, depending on when he was asked about it. When the team ordered MRIs on both knees and nothing was uncovered, "Manny being Manny" was no longer welcome in the clubhouse, and he was traded.
Which Manny will show up in 2010 for the Dodgers? What will be his motivation to perform for a team with which he already has written off any future?
Certainly, Ramirez has shown in the past that when he's about to become a free agent, he can turn it up and produce, as he did in 2000, his "walk year" in Cleveland, when he hit a career-high .351 to go along with 38 home runs and 122 RBIs. But that was Manny in his prime.
Eight years later, at the age of 36, Manny was entering the final year of his contract with the Red Sox, and his performance seemed entirely linked to his ever-changing state of mind.
The Many Phases of Manny
Phase 1: Manny gets off to a strong start to the season. This is not surprising, as for his career, his batting average has been better in April (.318) than in any other month besides August.
Phase 2: Pressure begins to mount as Ramirez approaches his 500th career home run. After finally accomplishing the feat on May 31, he hits home runs in each of the next two games.
Phase 3: Here's where something clearly snapped. Manny slumped and, according to the Providence Journal, started lashing out at others, including shoving the team's traveling secretary to the ground when he told the outfielder he might not be able to get him as many tickets as he wanted for a game.
Phase 4: Manny -- now demanding a trade, claiming injuries where team doctors found none, and being accused of being lazy in the field and on the basepaths -- suddenly strings together a strong two weeks of stats, as if to let the rest of the league know he still can turn it on, if they'd just swing a deal.
Phase 5: Having been shipped off to Los Angeles and with two months left to raise his stock for the free-agent season ahead, Manny performs so well that he ends up finishing fourth in the National League MVP voting, despite playing in the league for only two months.
I can think of no other player whose performance seemingly blows with the wind as Ramirez's did in 2008. Yet when he's focused and happy with his environment, there aren't many better players out there.
In 2009, after securing a two-year deal with the Dodgers to remain in Los Angeles, Ramirez again came out of the gate strong, batting .372 for April. However, just a few days later, he was suspended for 50 games for violating the league's drug policy, and just like that, his fantasy owners were left with a hole in their lineups that simply was not going to be adequately filled. Even when he returned from exile in July, the long layoff had taken its toll, and he hit only .269 with a slugging percentage of .492 the rest of the way.
Ramirez is not getting any younger (who is?), and he's hinted that he might be looking at retirement, which would mean this season would be the final brush stroke, leaving a lasting impression in the minds of baseball fans. If that's the case and he decides to go out in a blaze of glory, I wouldn't put it past him to produce one last .300 season with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Heck, he's Manny. He might even get it in his head to steal 20 bases, just to do it.
But there's a reason his average draft position currently stands at 85.3 in ESPN standard leagues. How sure can any of us be that Ramirez will stay happy, especially when Joe Torre is already talking about having a regular routine of days off for the outfielder? If Ramirez feels he is at all being slighted, there's every chance he'll shut it down.
If Ramirez gets off to a great start and gets it in his head that he wants to return in 2011, or if the Dodgers fall out of the playoff race early and he decides he'd like to be traded to a team that can give him one last run at the World Series, he might head down the path toward a repeat of what happened in Boston, especially if management doesn't move as quickly as he wants.
Fantasy baseball is supposed to be fun, and in the end, he's just not worth all the grief. Although my hope and belief for 2010 is that Manny is indeed going to be Manny, my fear is that Manny will also be Manny.
I'm going to let Manny be Manny somewhere else.