Dodging Bullets

I don’t have much more to write about the Manny Ramirez retirement. It’s unfortunate that such a great and beloved player had to end his career in the fashion that he did. I don’t know the degree to which performance enhancing drugs actually enhance performance, but I do believe that using banned substances, as set out by Major League Baseball, is cheating. I just find it difficult to believe that those getting caught are the only ones that are using them.

With that said, I think that the last days of Manny can be used as a lesson for some of us.

This offseason began with several rumours suggesting that Ramirez would be joining the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2011 season. It started innocently enough: Manny was friends with new manager John Farrell and he had publicly expressed a desire to play for him. A short time after that Ramirez was spotted in Toronto at a sports bar, then at another event, then at the airport. Before too long, Manny mania had hit the dormant Jays fans and a great many were hopeful of his joining the team.

I was hesitant to embrace the idea at first, but reason, or so I thought, eventually won me over. With Adam Lind transitioning from designated hitter to first base, and with the departures of Shaun Marcum and Vernon Wells, the Blue Jays had a hole to fill. Manny seemed like the perfect solution. He could come in as the team’s designated hitter and supply above average offense while also winning over some of the more casual members of the team’s fan base who had been put off by the recent departure of some of the bigger names on the Blue Jays.

Instead, the Blue Jays went with Edwin Encarnacion as their DH, thinking that he would be able to play first base for Lind from time to time and even proved the occasional cover at third base. Meanwhile, for the exact same amount of money as the Jays guaranteed Encarnacion, Ramirez signed with their American League East rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was a frustrating moment considering that even a Manny in decline was still able to get on base 42% of the time in Chicago. And that seemed like an ability that was in short supply last season. But now, months later, Jays fans should be thankful that Alex Anthopoulos was able to look past merely getting on base.

I remember being critical of the Toronto GM following the press conference announcing Jose Bautista’s contract extension. Instead of talking about the tangible things that Bautista brought to the team, Anthopoulos went on and on about what the slugger meant to his teammates, the leadership he provided and overall, what kind of person he was. I couldn’t help but think that the very same justification that Anthopoulos was using for locking Bautista up could also be used for reasoning not to bring Ramirez aboard.

In hindsight, thank god that he did.

I still believe that trying to play psychologist and pretending to have any insight into intangibles is foolish, but there certainly is something to be said for instincts. Too often, we in the baseball nerd business are quick to forget that teams are comprised of real people being managed by other real people. While I’ll stop short of praising Tony LaRussa as the greatest manager of all time, I think I need to remember that building a team does go beyond mere statistics. And just because there are factors that aren’t as easily measurable as numbers, it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. An ability to spot future problems and avoid potential train wrecks is every bit as important as properly analyzing a player’s numbers.

I don’t pretend to know or understand the particular details involved with Manny Ramirez and the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason, but I think it’s safe to say that if Alex Anthopoulos truly wanted him on this team, he’d be here. Fortunately, he was clever enough to see beyond the mere numbers and understand the risks involved in bringing him aboard. It’s a risk that the Tampa Bay Rays became all to familiar with this weekend.