On June 2, assuming none of Oakland's first 50 games are rained out, Manny Ramirez will be eligible to join the A's. He may need a few games in Triple-A to get ready, but signing Ramirez makes Oakland's intention clear: He'll be the club's designated hitter sometime in early June.
The critics will say: Why bring in Ramirez? This team isn't going anywhere, he's not exactly known for his leadership skills and why take away at-bats from young players like Brandon Allen, Chris Carter or Seth Smith?
I say: Why not?
For $500,000, the A's take a flyer on one of the game's all-time great hitters. They'll earn that back with just a few extra ticket sales. Yoenis Cespedes supposedly has said he wants to play with Ramirez, so that helps establish a happy relationship with the highest-paid player on the team; nothing wrong with that. But the big bonus, of course, would be if Ramirez actually hits once he returns. If he does, he becomes possible trade bait for a team looking for a DH or a bat off the bench. So for $500,000, if the A's get lucky, they flip Ramirez for a Grade C prospect. Maybe that prospect becomes somebody who can help the team in a couple of years.
The question, of course, is: Does Ramirez have anything left? He went 1-for-17 with Tampa Bay in 2011 before retiring after testing positive for a PED.
Ramirez turns 40 in May, but it certainly isn't unprecedented for a hitter his age to turn in a big season. Here are the 10 best OPS+ seasons by a 40-year-old (minimum 150 plate appearances):
Willie Mays, 1971 Giants: 158 (.271/.425/.482, 537 PAs)
Carlton Fisk, 1988 White Sox: 155 (.277/.377/.542, 298 PAs)
Jason Giambi, 2011 Rockies: 142 (.260/.355/.603, 152 PAs)
Edgar Martinez, 2003 Mariners: 141 (.294/.406/.489, 603 PAs)
Moises Alou, 2007 Mets: 137 (.341/.392/.524, 360 PAs)
Dave Winfield, 1992 Blue Jays: 137 (.290/.377/.491, 670 PAs)
Harold Baines, 1999 Orioles/Indians: 135 (.312/.387/.533, 486 PAs)
Darrell Evans, 1987 Tigers: 135 (.257/.379/.501, 609 PAs)
Ty Cobb, 1927 A's: 134 (.357/.440/.482, 574 PAs)
Brian Downing, 1991 Rangers: 132 (.278/.377/.455, 476 PAs)
Just missing the list is Jim Thome's 2011 season, when he hit 15 home runs in 277 at-bats. (Barry Bonds missed most of his age-40 season). One thing most of these 40-year-olds had in common: excellent plate discipline. Mays led the league with 112 walks; Martinez drew 92 walks; Winfield drew 82, the second-highest total of his career; Evans had 100 walks; Baines had more walks than strikeouts. Only Alou was a free swinger.
In his last season in 2010, Ramirez hit .298 but drew enough walks to post a .409 on-base percentage. While it would seem unlikely that he could provide the power bat that Thome did a year ago, it's certainly feasible that he could hit .275 with a .375 OBP. That would be enough to make him attractive to a playoff contender at the trade deadline. It's also certainly feasible that he's done and will wash out after two weeks.
For the A's, it's a no-lose situation with little investment needed. And there's this: With Cespedes and Ramirez, the A's may actually be worth checking out in 2012. There's nothing wrong with stirring up a little interest in your club, especially in a rebuilding year.