Will any team take a risk on signing Manny?
The long dreadlocks and free spirit of Manny Ramirez have never gone so unnoticed.
It's more anonymity that was so-often craved by his former employers, who usually put up with the contrary because of the undeniable gift Ramirez had for striking a baseball. Now anonymity serves as an indication his gifts have diminished to the point where his antics may no longer be worth stomaching.
Consider what has dominated headlines through the first month of this offseason -- from speculation about the future destinations of Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, to the Yankees' negotiations with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, to Kevin Towers' shopping of Justin Upton -- and think about how little of that has been dedicated to the fact one of the best right-handed hitters ever is jobless and looking.
It's enough to make you wonder if this is it for Manny.
Ramirez is now a 38-year-old free agent. He'll be 39 on May 30, is a liability defensively -- though that's not necessarily an age problem -- and is coming off a year that saw injuries escalate and bat speed decelerate.
After being limited to 104 games in 2009, the 12-time All-Star made three trips to the disabled list in the final season of a two-year, $45 million contract, one that saw him go deep just eight times in 66 games before the Dodgers gave him away to the White Sox.
When general manager Ken Williams picked up Ramirez in late August, many felt that was the get-over-the-hump acquisition for Chicago. Ramirez was back off the DL, heading to a league he knew well and was serving in a designated-hitter role that would keep his ailing legs fresh.
But he didn't help the White Sox make up the four-game deficit they faced in the division. In fact, with a .261 batting average and two (yes, two) extra-base hits in 88 plate appearances, he essentially helped widen it.
Now, after Chicago declined to offer him arbitration on Tuesday, it's tough to pinpoint a destination where Ramirez would be an everyday Major Leaguer, and it's hard to picture Manny -- the same guy who threatened retirement if he didn't get what he wanted from the Dodgers two offseasons ago -- accepting a lesser role.
Ramirez -- a career .313 hitter with 555 home runs -- can probably still hit, and to be fair, word from Chicago is that he had a great attitude and was a clubhouse favorite in his short Windy City stint.
But you'd be hard-pressed to find a team willing to take a leap of faith on a player his age, with his recent injury troubles, his defensive limitations and his off-field history. Not in an open market with so many more-subtle bargain-bin sluggers -- guys like Vladimir Guerrero, Lance Berkman, Hideki Matsui, Jim Thome and Pat Burrell -- and not when considering Ramirez has been at his worst when financially unhappy.
At the moment, his likeliest suitor appears to be the Blue Jays, the only team that has really been linked to him this offseason. It makes sense because of new manager John Farrell's history in Boston, Ramirez's familiarity with the American League East and GM Alex Anthopoulos' strange knack for compiling a lineup loaded with home run power.
But if the Blue Jays do what's reasonable and decide they're more comfortable with Adam Lind at DH than first base, what then?
The Orioles, Rays, Mariners, Rangers and A's are the only teams you can seemingly fathom Ramirez playing every day on, but none appear to be fits at the moment, either. And he doesn't seem like the kind of guy willing to sign a Minor League contract, or even go the Thome route and remake himself as a pinch-hitter. He's too proud and, well, perhaps too trapped in "Mannywood."
Sure, it's still too early to really tell, and the free-agent market is prone to unexpected twists and turns. But maybe it's time to at least consider this: Ramirez could be the next Barry Bonds or Gary Sheffield -- perennial-All-Star sluggers who found themselves out of baseball despite the ability to keep playing.
Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, sees a different comparable: Guerrero.
Coming off an injury-plagued season with the Angels in '09, Guerrero signed with the Rangers to a one-year salary of $5.5 million plus performance bonuses and wound up with a banner year in 2010 (.300 batting average, 29 homers and 115 RBIs despite a second-half decline).
It's that type of one-year, incentive-laden deal -- as part of an everyday role, of course -- that Boras seeks for his client.
But Guerrero is three years younger than Ramirez, and he doesn't really bring the extra baggage.
So, as of Thanksgiving Day, Ramirez's future is about as unpredictable as his personality.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.