PHOENIX (CBS/AP) – Manny Ramirez vows to be ready to return as his former sluggin’ self.
Coco Crisp can already envision a little more than two months from now when the dreadlocked star might be swinging for the fences in the heart of Oakland‘s batting order.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki thinks about it. So does pitcher Dallas Braden and all the others, including Ramirez himself, of course.
For all that this club went through this winter watching two starting pitchers traded away along with the All-Star closer, landing Ramirez and outbidding some big spenders for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes means an awful lot to the Athletics.
Ramirez must sit out the first 50 games for a second violation of baseball’s drug policy, making him eligible to play his first game barring rainouts on May 30 – his 40th birthday.
“It’s going to be cool,” the slugger said. “I’m just so happy to be here. I never thought I was going to get another chance. I’m doing something that I like. We’ve got a bunch of great guys.”
Oakland general manager Billy Beane traded away All-Star starter Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals, All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to Boston and Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks – quite a blow to a pitching staff that had been among baseball’s best only a couple of years back.
The new-look A’s will open the season in Japan for the second time in four years March 28-29 against the Seattle Mariners, one of manager Bob Melvin’s old teams. Melvin begins his first full season as skipper since taking over last June for the fired Bob Geren and proving enough to ownership and the front office that he landed a three-year contract.
Brandon McCarthy will get the ball on opening day for a rotation that also features new right-hander Bartolo Colon and is eagerly awaiting the return of lefties Braden from shoulder surgery and Brett Anderson, who was moved to the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from “Tommy John” reconstructive elbow surgery.
Beane’s plan this winter was to rebuild in the hopes that Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball would grant the A’s permission to relocate some 40 miles south to San Jose and begin building a modern new ballpark – rather than staying put in the run-down Oakland Coliseum.
Now, it seems there’s no ruling imminent despite Selig saying at the January owners meetings the issue was on the “front burner.” While clearly frustrated at how long it’s taking Selig’s committee to say anything at all, A’s owner Lew Wolff has said he will respect the process.
Melvin can only concern himself with the players he does have and getting them ready on short order.
The A’s formed a plan over the winter for the strange schedule of opening with two games in Japan before returning to finish the exhibition slate stateside ahead of the home opener with Seattle on April 6.
“Once you know you’re going, you just deal with it,” Melvin said of adjusting the spring routine to get his players ready in a hurry. “No excuses. We have another team doing the same thing that’s going there. You find a way to alter your routine to be able to deal with something like that. Once we get there, it’s not like we’re playing the games right away. We’ll have some exhibition games and some workouts, so once the games start we’ll be in a routine to where we’ll be ready for those two games.”
Cespedes, given a $36 million, four-year deal and a chance to start his career in the big leagues after the A’s outbid Florida and others to land him, has shown the A’s enough even as a late spring training arrival to earn the starting job in center field. Crisp will shift to left.
Crisp has said he didn’t mind either way. He likes the way things are shaping up throughout the lineup.
“With Cespedes and Manny possibly being middle-of-the-lineup type of guys, that can extend our lineup,” Crisp said. “That’s just going to make our lineup better when you’ve got two guys who can come right into the middle of our lineup. It’s just going to make our lineup stronger.”
The A’s signed Ramirez to a one-year minor league contract on Feb. 20 that is worth approximately $500,000 if he’s added to the big league roster. So far this spring, he has been on good behavior.
“I’m going to be ready. It’s going to take time. I haven’t played in a whole year, so it’s like starting to walk again, getting into that feel,” Ramirez said. “It’s different from the players who are here. They played last year, so it’s easy for them to get their rhythm back. I haven’t faced a pitcher (in a major league game) since April – a whole year long. But, stay positive.”
Ramirez retired from the Tampa Bay Rays last season rather than serve a 100-game suspension for a second failed drug test. The penalty was cut to 50 games because he sat out nearly all of last season.
The slugger realizes full well this could be his last chance at mending his reputation – at least a little bit – and he also hopes to be a positive clubhouse presence for a young team.
Suzuki is optimistic that will be the case.
“He’s going to bring a great energy to the lineup,” Suzuki said. “It’s going to be fun. I’m excited.”
Ramirez ranks 14th on the career list with 555 home runs. He went 1 for 17 (.059) in five games last season for Tampa Bay. This will mark the 20th major league season for Ramirez, a career .312 hitter with 1,831 RBIs.
“It’ll take time, but I’m going to put the time into it,” he said, “and I’m pretty sure we’re going to be fine.”
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