Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, once said this about his character:
The real key came about eight or nine shows in. I had been playing Kramer as if he were slow-witted - always one step behind. Then I learned to play Kramer as if he were blocks ahead of what everyone's saying, and I had him.
There are teams that make me think of this quote. The Tampa Bay Rays, for one. Picture Andrew Friedman opening Stuart Sternberg's office door, sliding across the floor, and yelling something incomprehensible about James Loney. The A's and Billy Beane are like that, too. From the John Mabry trade to the Yoenis Cespedes signing, they're always good for a wacky move or nine. Except those moves work quite a bit. Beane is still blocks ahead of what everyone's saying.
The Texas Rangers are not one of those teams. I picture them as a bit more stoic. Conventional in a wildly successful way. This is all from the perspective of an outsider, but I picture the Rangers as Bruce Wayne and the Rays/A's as someone in a weaponized ostrich costume trying to get Bruce Wayne. They're not so different, really. But the Rangers are less likely to do something completely wacky on the surface.
This comes up now because when we asked, "Who would sign Manny Ramirez?" in 2010, the Rays were the answer. And when the question was "Who would actually sign Manny after he was busted for female fertility drugs?", the answer was the A's. But the Rays were still rumored to be interested, even after the unpleasantness of their first go-round. Of course it was the A's and Rays in on Manny. Of course.
They were in on Manny because of the risk vs. reward. The risk was small: a couple million dollars and a few extra cameras in the clubhouse, really. The potential reward was great: one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever live. The A's signed Frank Thomas when he looked like a broken-down bag of hurt, and he was transcendent for them. The potential reward of Manny was something like that.
Every team should be, and probably is, into the risk/reward way of looking at potential acquisitions. The Rangers, though, can accept a little more risk for a little more reward. They can pay $11 million for Lance Berkman because the reward is pretty sweet. They pay more because a 37-year-old hitting like he's 35 isn't as far-fetched as a 41-year-old hitting like he's 35, especially after getting popped for PEDs.
That written, there isn't a lot of risk for the Rangers signing Manny Ramirez. A little money, more cameras, just like the last time. A roster spot for a benchie, which probably isn't a big deal in the American League, especially on a team that's mostly filled with competent-or-better hitters who don't need to be pinch-hit for. No, the risk isn't really there.
But neither is the reward. Here's a list of players over 41 who had an OPS+ over 100 (league average) in 200 at-bats or more. There are 22 of them, and 14 are Hall of Famers. Fifteen, if you count Barry Bonds. Manny belongs in their company. There are great-not-legendary hitters like Brian Downing and Darrell Evans on the list. They were really, really good in their prime. But they were no match for Manny.
Here's the list of players over 41 who had an OPS+ under 100. There are 30 of them on this list; 11 of them also made the first list. That's because hitting a baseball is hard enough at 25. At 41, it takes something almost historic. Names on this list include Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor, and Reggie Jackson. Pete Rose did it five times. None of them spent two years away from the majors, either.
The odds are that Manny doesn't make an impact with the Rangers at the major-league level. The odds are that he'll be something between his White Sox season and Pete Rose's seasons with the Expos. It won't be the most offensive thing you've ever seen, but it'll be clear that he doesn't really belong. That's just a guess.
There's a chance. There's a sliver of a chance that Ramirez carries over the power he showed off in Taiwan. I'm rooting for him because it'll be fun. But there's a spectrum that moves from "raising with a low pair" to "raffle ticket" to "lottery ticket" to "putting a bowl of uncooked ramen on your front porch during a lightning storm." This is between raffle and lottery. Long, long odds. The reward might not be as great as you think.
Again, the risk is negligible. It's not like Ron Washington is going to start Manny Ramirez in center field. There's very little risk. It's just rare to see the Rangers wade in to risk/reward waters this shallow, though. They usually swim at the country club.
I sat down to write a "Which team could use Manny Ramirez?" post two weeks ago, but I abandoned the idea. Because it was a stupid idea. No one was going to take a chance on Manny Ramirez. He was poison. No one wanted to deal with him.
Oh, baseball. It might not have been as surprising as a second tour with either the Rays or A's. But it's the Rangers. That's about as goofy a fit as there is, and it's going to be dazzling to watch. If he can actually hit his way into some playing time.