A flyer doesn't get much more altitude than this: Manny Ramirez, at 41, is back in the U.S., back in professional ball, and part of the Texas Rangers organization.
Ramirez – of 555 major-league home runs, of two drug suspensions, of semi-retirement, of a couple months as a Rhino in Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League – is scheduled to report Thursday to the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock, Texas.
"It's not that we have low expectations or high expectations," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Wednesday. "I don't know what to expect."
Daniels said the Rangers did not scout Ramirez in Taiwan or at a recent workout in Florida. They last saw him in the Dominican Republic, where he played last winter.
"We really don't have much to lose, if anything," Daniels said.
Upon signing for a prorated $500,000, Ramirez agreed to cut his hair above shoulder length, which the Rangers require of their minor leaguers. He'll also be subject again to the MLB drug program, including random and unannounced blood testing for HGH. If he were to test positive, Ramirez would be banned for life.
On the bright side, Manny did hit .352 against Taiwanese pitching.
In the weeks leading to the trading deadline, the Rangers seek a starting pitcher and – this could be where Manny comes in – a bat. Bothered by achy knees, DH Lance Berkman is batting .263 with six home runs and 34 RBIs. He batted .194 in June.
Partly as a result, the Rangers' offense has become mediocre. Whether Ramirez has enough left at 41 – last time in the big leagues, over five games with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011, he rode a noticeably slow bat to a .059 average – remains to be seen. He is expected to work out in Round Rock for several days before playing in games. If he performs, the Rangers could platoon the DH spot between Ramirez and the switch-hitting Berkman, or move Berkman to first base, where he's played four games in 2013. Neither would seem equipped to play the outfield.
"When's the last time Manny played the outfield?" Daniels said. "I don't know, realistically. We haven't seen him. Maybe we catch lightning in a bottle here. Maybe we don't."
Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz, who leads the club with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs, reportedly is among the many players cited in the Biogenesis documents, which MLB is investigating. Daniels said the Ramirez signing was not intended as insurance against the possibility of losing Cruz to suspension. The club has not been notified of the status of the investigation.
In that vein, Daniels said, the signing of Ramirez "was not tied to anyone."
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