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Health, motivation keys for Manny

After two injury- and suspension-filled seasons, Manny Ramirez says he has a chip on his shoulder to prove that he isn't washed up:

“I don’t know, it’s just me,” he said. “I want to go and get that feel back that I still got it.”

And still got it for Ramirez will be, what -- 30 home runs, 100 RBIs? A return to his 2008 form when he hit .332 with 37 home runs and 121 RBIs while splitting time between the Red Sox and the Dodgers?

“I wish,” he said, “but I’m going to go and give all I got. ... I just got a chip on my shoulder that I want to be here, I want to get my stuff right and show people I can play,” he said.

As always with Manny, health and motivation will be the prime factors in whether he can recapture any of his former glory. Ramirez did show up to Tampa Bay's spring camp five days early. It isn't much, but it is something. He's also saying all the right things: that he doesn't care where he hits in the lineup, and he's excited to join this young club. Manny also called Tampa "a great town to play" in, which might be a bit over the top. We'll give him points for effort. It certainly doesn't sound like Manny being Manny.

No one knows whether Ramirez will remain motivated for an entire season, but there's reason to believe that he can still hit (and since he'll be the DH, that's all he's going to be asked to do). He's played no more than 104 games in either of the last two seasons, but Manny still put up an OPS+ of 138 in 2010 (and 153 in 2009). The 2011 projections for Ramirez are pretty bullish across the board. Bill James sees Manny posting a .290/.401/.503 line with a .393 wOBA. The Marcel projections are slightly lower (.283/.385/.478, .371 wOBA), but even that would be good production for a 39-year-old hitter.

As for his health, it is a minor miracle that no one is proclaiming that Manny is in the best shape of his life. Ramirez does say he is in better shape than last year:

As a result, he focused his offseason workouts on staying healthy this season.

“Last year, not looking for an excuse, I got hurt like maybe three times in the season, so I think I was a little bit heavy, so I said maybe I put my weight down to see how I feel,” he said. “I feel much better. I can move much better. I was 237; now I’m 225. I feel good.”

After signing a relatively paltry one-year, $2 million deal, a healthy, happy and productive Manny Ramirez would go a long way toward filling the void left after Carl Crawford took his talents to Boston. Whatever you think of Ramirez, you have to love the prospect of a resurgent Manny in the middle of a huge Rays-BoSox series at Fenway late in the season with playoff implications. That's pure theater.

Chad Dotson writes Redleg Nation, a blog about the Cincinnati Reds. Follow him on Twitter.