Still Manny?

It used to be a given that you’d get at least 35 HR and 100 RBI annually from Manny Ramirez, but the last time Manny reached those levels was 2006. Since then, people have questioned his motivation (witness taking Septembers off, not running to first base on long flys, the infamous three-pitch strikeout) and his ability (the pressure of 500 HR, he can’t hit a fastball anymore). It has not helped that he’s had some bad PR events happen this season. With this being a contract year for him, it’s time to examine just how much he’s actually slipped.

The Numbers
Manny’s actual performance has been very good, even in his post-peak period. It might help us gain some perspective to look at this in a little more detail. In 214 games since the beginning of 2007, he’s hit .301/.394/.521, compared to .312/.409/.590 over his career. There actually isn’t much change there except the slugging percentage (which is a not a minor thing), but that’s skewed by last year’s .493 mark, the worst of his career. Ramirez is back up to .529 this season (ISO of .233 compared to .273 for his career), and is first or second in many major categories for AL left fielders. He also owns a 140 OPS+ and ranks 17th in VORP of all hitters. With 19 HR already this season, I’m willing to chalk up last season to a down year plus maybe that oblique injury.

How much power has he actually lost? Ramirez has hit 39 HR over this “down” period, which seems awfully low, right? But here’s a list of other hitters who are at that same mark in that period of time: Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, Torii Hunter and Paul Konerko. Justin Morneau has just two more at 41, and the “38 club” includes Jason Bay, Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy. He’s got several more dingers than Garrett Atkins and Troy Glaus. That’s not bad. This total is a bit obscured by his limited playing time.

It should also be pointed out that Manny has improved significantly on defense. Manny’s comment about wanting to win a Gold Glove might seem a bit much, but he has actually improved his fielding significantly since the start of 2007. Even Baseball Prospectus agrees that he has been about a league average left fielder the past two seasons.

The Situation
Manny, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, has two $20M one-year options on his contract that he would like picked up. The Red Sox are not sure they want to commit to that kind of money to a 36-year old, and would like to get a strong season out of him this year. They also want to line up a replacement before letting him walk.

In making this decision, we have to consider the market. Who else makes $20M per season? It’s a pretty short list: Alex Rodriguez and Johan Santana. Through free agency, Mark Teixeira could sign a deal near that number this offseason. The next highest salaries belong to Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, and Carlos Zambrano.

The only free agent who can match Manny’s production this year is probably Teixeira, and we have an excellent first baseman already. I’m also pretty sure the Yankees will pay whatever they need to pay in order to land him, with Jason Giambi a free agent and so much money coming off the books for them. They’re also much closer to his native Baltimore than we are.

The Options
As always, the question is: if you let someone like Ramirez walk, who do you get to replace him? Do you need to get at least equal production in left field in order to be competitive? Despite playing much of this season without the tandem of David Ortiz and Ramirez, the Red Sox are second in the AL in runs scored at 498 runs. That begs the unthinkable question – do we really NEED Manny?

According to Baseball Prospectus, Manny has been worth 35 batting and fielding runs above a replacement player, a nominal big leaguer, and 3.9 wins above a typical replacement player in 384 PA this season. Let’s say he stays healthy and gets to 600 PA; with the same level of production, that’s worth 54.7 runs or 6.09 WARP1. Using those numbers for 2008, over the past three seasons, he’s been worth an average of 46 runs or 5.1 wins. For the Sox to theoretically break even, they need to get someone who can fill that void or rely upon incremental improvement from others in the lineup to make up those runs. Here are some of the options that I see.

From Within
The Sox do have some pretty good outfielders waiting in the wings, but none of them will measure up to Manny’s stick. Keep in mind these translations are based on minor league performance and can tend to overestimate power numbers a bit.

  • Brandon Moss, 1B/OF. The first name to come to mind. Moss is a plus defender and does have some pop. His stats at Pawtucket translate as possibly .284/.340/.532 at the Major League level.
  • Jeff Bailey, 1B/LF. This journeyman is not as good on defense, and is projected to go .255/.344/.512 at the Major League level. He’s not ever going to start in Boston.
  • Chris Carter, 1B/LF. Carter could hit .268/.328/.492 and be average with the glove.

Free Agency
Among left fielders who could be in Manny’s class offensively this season and could potentially be available this offseason or next (free agency year in parentheses):

  • Matt Holliday, COL (2009). A lot of teams have their eye on Holliday, but he plays in Colorado (lifetime .363/.426/.658 at home and .277/.341/.449 away) and in the NL (.336/.406/.510 inter-league), so we’re not sure how that will translate to the AL East. I’m not convinced he’ll reach free agent status; he’ll likely sign an extension or be traded.
  • Pat Burrell, PHI (2008). Pat the Bat is a consistent 30 HR threat, but also a career .259 hitter. Righty also plays in the NL (.199/.327/.384 lifetime in inter-league play).
  • Jason Bay, PIT (2009). A balanced bat and a good defender, I like this late bloomer, but some questions remain about his dismal 2007. Is right-handed, like Manny. Has hit .250/.312/.450 in inter-league play.
  • Adam Dunn, CIN (2008). Can’t argue with his .381 OBP and 4 straight years of 40 HR, but his .247 average and huge number of strikeouts makes him a frustrating player. Has hit about the same (.246/.362/.530) against the AL.

The Trade Market
We have the prospects to engineer a trade for a good young outfielder. Younger left fielders who we could potentially target:

  • Adam Lind, TOR. A good 24-year old prospect who never capitalized on playing time and seems to have fallen out of favor in Toronto. Good enough defender, and a contact bat with decent power. His translation looks really good at .301/.382/.554. A lefty hitter.
  • Luke Scott, BAL. The 30-year old Scott has been a platoon player, but he is a pretty good defender. He’s worth about 4.2 wins above replacement each of the past three seasons, and he’s just starting to get regular playing time this year. Bats lefty, however.

This list is pretty tough to generate, because there are few teams who have an excess of outfielders at this time.

Would the Sox like to be rid of Manny’s attitude and sometimes strange behavior? Probably. But there’s no easy answer to this problem, as far as I can tell. There’s just no obtainable bat that makes 100% sense. If Manny’s performance slides in the second half, look for the front office to hand him a pink slip. They’ll take the two draft picks and try to land someone to play in left to compete with Moss for the job. If that looks too hard, look for them to pick up one option year and keep shopping next season.

Or Ramirez could pick it up again and produce well, forcing the management’s hand on at least one option or an extension. Manny has said that he wants to keep playing here in Boston; if the Sox could get him extended for 2-3 years at about $15M per year, I might be willing to support that. He ends up with guaranteed money and gets to finish out his career here. But I’m not sure Manny would like that paycut. We’ll see what happens.


6 Responses to Still Manny?

  1. Pat says:

    Wow. Nicely done.

    I have a feeling like when Manny is gone, they won’t replace his big bat. It seems like we are changing to a more versatile less powerful offense, so I could really picture a Brandon Moss in Manny’s place.

    That said I think we should, as much as we can, always have a very scary part of the lineup. We can afford to have some high paid sluggers, and we should. Weather it for be Manny or Holliday, we should use our financial leverage.

    From your list, Jason Bay and Matt Holliday are my favorites.

  2. redsoxtalk says:

    Out of the options, I still have reservations about Holliday, and I think it’d cost us too much to get him. Bay I could live with as long as it’s just two top prospects and not three. However, I don’t see any of these guys as “ideal”. Their peak will not ever come close to Manny. I just don’t think the right guy is available right now, and I’d rather not lock into one of these guys… I think I’d prefer we go the balanced lineup route until the right bat does become available.

  3. Pat says:

    Not that it’s anything definite, supposedly the F.O. is shopping Manny right now. I’m surprised to hear this. I wonder what teams might want him.

  4. redsoxtalk says:

    Pat, I’m halfway through writing a post on this as I type. It’ll probably be ready to publish tomorrow AM sometime, so check back.

  5. Pat says:

    Sounds good. I don’t mean to steal your thunder.

  6. Pingback: Trade Manny to Who? « Red Sox Talk

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