Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez is scheduled to return from the disabled list for Thursday's game in St. Louis, and while it seems like many fantasy owners are skeptical about the future Hall of Famer really helping their teams down the stretch, I say it all depends on what you're asking from him.
If you want the former-MVP version who regularly hit close to 40 home runs and knocked in 120 runs, that's not this Manny. However, he still has a .322 batting average, eight home runs and 39 RBIs in 59 games this season. That's not bad.
As such, Ramirez seems undervalued to me. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft ranked him as the No. 100 hitter in this week's Hit Parade, and in the second-half staff rankings, Ramirez checked in at No. 131 overall, a drop of 40 points from our May rankings. What really changed with him since May? He's still hitting, and a short (minimum-day) DL stint shouldn't affect his value so much. I ranked Ramirez at No. 108, the best on the staff.
It's true that 64 outfielders are ranked better than Ramirez on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater, but if you value batting average, note that Manny's .322 mark would place him third in the National League, a mere three points behind the Braves' Martin Prado for the lead. There's value in that, and let's consider this is a player who was on a 100-RBI pace when he injured his hamstring. There might be some regression in Ramirez's batting average since his current batting average on balls in play is .354, but look closer; he's at .391 against right-handed pitching. That's high and it should drop. Against southpaws, Ramirez has a .235 BABIP, which should rise, meaning he should maintain a solid batting average.
I would never accuse a player of not wanting to play or feigning injury, and I don't in this case with Ramirez; he went on the DL because of a sore hamstring only two weeks ago, so I wouldn't say he has milked extra vacation time. He went on a rehab assignment (he went hitless in nine at-bats), and still the Dodgers aren't worried about placing him in their lineup immediately against former Cy Young Award-winner Chris Carpenter. I'd put Ramirez in a fantasy lineup right away too.
Manny is Manny, and he remains a productive Manny. His declining fantasy value is more a factor of perception when he's competing with colleagues Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, both of whom are having better seasons. I'd argue it would be considerably tougher to pry those younger guys loose from fantasy owners. Ramirez, on the other hand, is far from an MVP candidate and would consequently come far cheaper. Let's remember that the Dodgers are in a pennant race, and Ramirez is, after all, playing for a contract. If he ever needed motivation, I'd think he has it.
While Ramirez is 38, it would be unfair to label him as an injury risk. Players suffer sore hamstrings all the time. A younger player might have stayed in the lineup and recovered quicker, but Ramirez doesn't make his money by running. The Dodgers will protect him with a late-inning defensive replacement, and look for occasional off days from him. Ramirez played in only 104 games in 2009, but that was due to suspension rather than injury. And if you're worried about his drop in production since the suspension, let me remind you that he's hitting .322 and slugging .525.
This Manny isn't quite like the old Manny, but he can still help a fantasy team.