Would Manny get Barry'd with Giants?
Free-agent slugger could face treatment similar to homer king
SAN FRANCISCO -- The question is worth pondering: As a Giant, would Manny have the chance to be Manny?That is, if the Giants signed free-agent left fielder Manny Ramirez -- which is a long shot -- would he get enough swings to be productive or would he receive precious few opportunities to hit while drawing an excess amount of intentional walks, as was the case with Barry Bonds? "In theory, I think that thought process is right on," a National League scout said. But Bonds, whose 688 intentional walks set a Major League record, was an extraordinary talent. A handful of NL talent evaluators said that Ramirez, as formidable as he can be, has not ascended to Bonds' level. Thus, the Giants probably would get to see Ramirez take plenty of swings in meaningful situations at the cleanup spot, regardless of who hits behind him. That would be a welcome prospect for the Giants, who lack a proven No. 5 hitter to protect Ramirez. Aaron Rowand hit fifth 91 times last year and batted only .258 with a .407 slugging percentage in that role. Bengie Molina likely would bat fifth instead of Rowand if Ramirez arrived. Molina owns a .303 average with 19 home runs and 78 RBIs in only 104 career games at the No. 5 spot. As the roster currently stands, Molina will hit cleanup for the second consecutive season.
"Bengie hits third or fourth only with San Francisco," said another NL scout, revealing his disdain for the Giants' offensive depth.Yet, the Giants, who ranked next-to-last in NL scoring and last in the Majors in homers during 2008, probably wouldn't waste Ramirez's potential.
"The macho thing," one scout said, "is not to always [bypass big hitters]. I don't think you're going to see guys walk him all the time."In fact, nobody in the NL prompts the fear Bonds did. Baseball's all-time home run leader coaxed 43 intentional walks in 2007, his final season, despite his diminished skills. By comparison, St. Louis' Albert Pujols topped the NL with 34 in 2008. Ramirez drew only 24 intentional walks last year, although 16 of those came in 53 games after he moved from Boston to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Having spent most of his career amid challenging lineups, he has never amassed more than 28 intentional walks in a season.
"Bonds was so far above the crowd," one scout said. "I'd joke about it on the advance reports, but it was true. If you were ahead by one run in the ninth inning with Bonds coming up, walk him intentionally and play for a tie."Said another scout, "Manny Ramirez is probably the best right-handed hitter in baseball, with the possible exception of Pujols. But he hasn't been labeled 'great' yet. They didn't pitch to Bonds because he was indeed great." One scout noted that if Ramirez signs with the Giants, playing his home games in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park could mute his home run total.
"His power might play down a little bit," the scout said.Appearing on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" show, Giants president and chief operating officer Larry Baer reiterated the club's interest in Ramirez -- along with hints that San Francisco would offer only a one- or two-year deal worth less than the $20 million or more the slugger reportedly seeks. The Giants want to avoid exceeding their payroll limit astronomically, blocking the path of prospects to the Majors and creating a personnel glut in the outfield that can't be eased. "We've said it. We're interested in the player, but it would have to be a perfect fit," Baer said. "What we can't do is have a player that prevents us from doing things two years from now, three years from now, four years from now. ... So it's not a perfect fit. His bat is a perfect fit."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.