FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Manny Ramirez is so happy to be with the Boston Red Sox that he wants to finish his career with them. That said, the eccentric star isn't going to ask the team to pick up his option for 2009.
"I want to stay here, but it's up to them if they want to bring me," Ramirez said. "But if they don't want to bring me back, that's fine. I know I'll be a free agent after '08 so that's another thing that I'm looking forward [to]."
Boston's slugging left-fielder is entering the final season of his eight-year, $160 million contract that has team options for 2009 and 2010 of $20 million each.
Ramirez shed his usual silence with reporters and talked with them for 5 minutes, 22 seconds after leaving the batting cage Thursday morning. He also beat the team's spring training-reporting deadline for the first time in three years.
But the old "Manny being Manny" hasn't disappeared entirely, particularly with another cryptic comment.
"I might be late two years in a row," Ramirez said with a straight face, "but I'm always on time."
There's no rush to pick up the option or extend his contract, and Ramirez has no intention of asking the team to do either.
"It's up to them to say, 'OK, we're going to take [the option]. It's not up to me to go into the office and demand a four-year deal, whatever," he said. "No, I'm going come here to play the game, finish my year. If they want me to come back, I'll come back."
General manager Theo Epstein also wants to wait.
"We're focused on 2008," Epstein said. "Manny's contract provides for the first of his options to be decided upon at the end of the year and there's a time for that, but it's certainly after the season. And we're looking forward to Manny continuing to work hard and have a great year."
Ramirez had asked to be traded after the 2005 and 2006 seasons. But this offseason passed peacefully, without so much as a peep of dissatisfaction from him.
"You start growing up and mature," the 35-year-old Ramirez said.
Now he doesn't want to play anywhere else.
"I want to finish my career here," he said, "but it's up to them. So if that doesn't happen, hey, I'll go and play somewhere else. I know I still can play. What else can I say? It's up to them. I'm not the one who writes the checks."
The uncertainty of where he'll play in 2009 shouldn't affect Ramirez in 2008, manager Terry Francona said. Ramirez, the hitter, isn't easily distracted.
"Once he steps in the batter's box, that isn't an issue," Francona said. "Or if there's something that is an issue, when those two feet get planted in the batter's box, he's ready to go."
Ramirez is coming off one of his worst offensive seasons -- a .296 batting average with 20 homers and 88 RBIs. He's 26th on the all-time list with 490 homers and should move into the top 20 this year.
He changed his workout approach in the offseason. Ramirez usually trains in Florida, where he lives, but went instead to Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona, a facility used by many major leaguers.
"Manny always works hard," Epstein said. "He doesn't get the credit he deserves for being one of our hardest workers. This year that took a little bit different form."
Francona usually brushes off Ramirez's quirks. So the manager just laughed about Ramirez skipping the team's conditioning drills Thursday afternoon.
"I give Manny credit for being smart enough to sneak out of here," Francona said.
Ramirez said his on-time arrival isn't intended to show the Red Sox his determination as he enters the final guaranteed year of his contract.
"I'm not making any statement," he said. "I feel great, man. I'm looking forward for '08 and '09 and I did my work like I always do every year and I'm excited to be here."
He had a productive offseason at API, where former Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra has worked out.
"I heard about them when Garciaparra was here," Ramirez said. "I want to be like Julio Franco, play until I can. Why not? And that's the place to go and work out and get ready for the season."
Franco, who turns 50 in August, is a free agent after finishing last season with Atlanta.
"I wouldn't put anything past Manny," Epstein said. "He's certainly in great enough shape where he can play at a high level for a long time, but when something like that [option] is built into a contract it makes sense just to be patient and wait for the appropriate time to deal with it."