02/22/10 3:13 PM EST
Manny says this is his final season in LA
Dodger hints at return to AL or retirement after contract expires
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
Ramirez -- 37 and in the final year of a two-year contract -- hinted at retirement or a return to the American League as a designated hitter as possibilities, but committed to neither.
"I know I won't be here next year, so I'll just enjoy myself," Ramirez said. "I'm happy I'm here now, I just know I won't be back. I'll wait until September and check out the numbers and see where we're at. The game is still fun, but I'll wait until the season ends and see where my family's at and stuff like that, and make a choice. I just want to see how my body responds and stuff like that."
When asked if he would welcome a return to the AL, he said: "I don't know. We'll take it a day at a time. I don't know about tomorrow. I know about today. When the season is over, we'll see where it's at. If they let me play, I play."
In Manny-speak, that could be an oblique reference to the lack of interest he encountered when he was a free agent after his stunning revival in 2008. He also had an opt-out clause after the '09 season, but anticipating that he couldn't surpass the $20 million salary to play for the Dodgers, he avoided free agency and stayed.
"If it's accurate, if he's not going to continue playing, that's his decision," said general manager Ned Colletti. "I hope he's the premier free agent on the market. That means he had a great year with the Dodgers.
"I'm not thinking about his contract for next year, I'm not worried about it, not focused on it and it's not a priority. I hope he has a great year whatever he wants to do, so everybody can see he's the best player out there."
Teammates have speculated that Ramirez wants to return to the AL as a DH to reduce the wear and tear on his legs that results from playing the outfield. Manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti have said they intend to give Ramirez more rest this season, although he didn't sound on board with that.
"I think you should talk to [Torre] and see what he's going to do," Ramirez said. "I'm the employee here. Whatever they want me to do."
Torre said he hopes to give Ramirez a "routine" of days off, mainly day games after night games, possibly three every two weeks. Torre said he believes Ramirez will continue playing beyond this season "if it continues to be fun for him."
"Fun is part of what he does," said Torre. "If it's fun, I'd like to believe he'd like to do it longer. One thing I've gotten to know is his work ethic and how seriously he takes the game.
"I know he was not happy with what went on in regards to him and how he struggled and he's determined to get it straightened out. He's watched a lot of video and he said he feels good."
Already speaking in the past tense, Ramirez said leaving would not be a reflection on his time spent playing in Los Angeles.
"I wish I could have been there a long time ago," he said. "I had a blast there."
Ramirez -- who unleashed three of the most amazing months of hitting in Dodgers history after his acquisition in 2008 -- is coming off his strangest season. He tried to compress a Spring Training into three weeks after overplaying his hand on the free-agent market, was suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy, and he went into a power slump down the stretch after being hit on the wrist by a pitch.
He said he responded to last season by doing something he normally doesn't do in the offseason: take batting practice.
"I had to figure out some stuff and that's what I did," he said.
The shortened Spring Training didn't keep Ramirez from hitting .372 in April. The suspension smeared Ramirez's Hall of Fame-caliber resume, but in his first 16 games back, he hit .347 with five homers and 17 RBIs. Then, on July 21, he took a Homer Bailey fastball off his wrist and his power vanished (except for the stunning bobblehead night pinch-hit homer the following game).
It could have been the legs, it could have been the wrist and some suspect it was his head -- or at least the emotional angst that comes with getting caught and punished. Whatever the cause, the number crunchers know he hit 100 points lower after the All-Star break than before.
For his final 33 at-bats of the regular season, Ramirez -- a .313 lifetime hitter -- batted .152 with no homers and four RBIs. He finished the season averaging .290, his worst since 1994. With added rest in the postseason, he hit .281.
But Ramirez deflected questions about last year in general and the wrist injury in particular.
"I don't want to look back, I don't want to talk about that, let's talk about today," he said. "For me, it's in the past. I tell myself, 'Thank God, at least I was playing.' That's how I look at it. Just because we didn't win the World Series, at least we're in the playoffs. I thought I did a good job. It was good. Coming back, what's happened last year is in the past. It's a new year, so we'll see."
Ramirez claimed that his body is not an issue -- at least as Spring Training opens.
"I feel good," he said. "From my waist down, I feel 15. From the neck up, I feel 43."
And he said he doesn't have anything to prove despite the way last season went.
"Not really. I've accomplished everything I want to accomplish in this game," he said. "All this is extra."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.