What do the years 1998 and 2007 have in common? Those are the last two years in which Manny Ramirez didn't lead American League outfielders in OPS. So what can we expect from the AL's best offensive outfielder in 2008? Well, that's the "beauty" of Manny; no one really knows.
Ramirez was hurt by two things last year. Firstly, he got off to an especially slow start at the plate. In the first half of the season Manny hit just .284/.385/.465. But this is nothing new. In 2005, Manny's best offensive season with the Red Sox, he hit only .275/.361/.549 in the first half.
Ramirez isn't always in the best shape when he comes into Spring Training. Often times, he'll show up late. And when he does show up, he doesn't always look ready to play. Will things be different in 2008? Who knows.
I will say one thing though, and I mean this half jokingly, half serious. If Manny shows up to Spring Training in shape and on time this year, for the first time in many years, he could be primed for quite the year.
There are signs that Ramirez is finally realizing he isn't 30 any more. According to Peter Gammons, Manny's become a "manicle workout warrior". Manicle is Gammons' word, not mine. Gammons provides a brief first hand account of Manny's workouts, describing them as "extremely difficult."
Then, there is the second issue which hampered Manny's performance in 2007. For the second year in a row, Ramirez missed significant time due to an injury. Ramirez has typically been rather consistent with his health, playing 150+ games a season. The last two years, however, his playing time has been more like 130 games a year. Fortunately, Manny's 2006 and 2007 injuries are likely unrelated.
In 2006, Manny Ramirez suffered from patellar tendinitis in his right knee. In 2007, he suffered from a strained oblique in his right leg. Each injury caused him to miss about a month of playing time. I'm no doctor, but in my opinion, these injuries are likely related to the age of Ramirez. Patellar tendinitis specifically isn't an injury usually seen in baseball players. It is more often seen in basketball and soccer players, as it is a sign of excessive wear on the knee joint.
Manny Ramirez is going to be 36-years-old in 2008. I think he's clearly at risk for injury, but at this point in his career I wouldn't label him an injury liability. Even when he has been hurt, he's played 130+ games. Getting into better physical shape could lower his risk for injury. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see him need a little time off in the second half of 2008.
If Ramirez plays a full season in 2008, I see no reason why he couldn't hit 40 home runs and drive in 120. He finally appears to be happy in Boston, and he'll be playing for a $20 million team option in 2009. Ramirez will also have some serious OBP guys in front of him in Ellsbury (.394), Pedroia (.380) and Ortiz (.445). And after Lowell's 2007 season, pitchers and managers may be more wary of pitching around Ramirez.
But even if he misses some time to injury, he could still lead American League outfielders in OPS as he did in 2006. Oh yeah, and seal his Hall of Fame candidacy with his 500th home run. Unless, of course, he pulls a Roger Clemens.