Which Manny Ramirez Will Show Up for Dodgers?

Never underestimate the power of a contract year.

It's been a tale of two Mannys in Los Angeles.

There's the Manny Ramirez that almost led the Dodgers to the World Series two seasons ago, the one who made pitchers quake hitting nearly .400, and hitting 17 home runs in just 53 games. The one that filled the stadium with fans wearing dreadlock wigs.

Then there's the one from the second half of last season. The one after the steroid suspension that was pedestrian, who could be pitched inside, who held he young Dodgers stars back in the playoffs. He had just 19 home runs last year and his slugging percentage was .60 points off his career average.

The $20 million question now is which Manny will show up this season for the Dodgers? Because if they are to take the next step, they need the old Manny back.

His spring training has shown flashes of that power, two home runs in 37 at bats, which is solid but not astronomical. He is hitting a for a pedestrian .270 average. But these are spring training games, where hitters and pitchers are working on specific things, and the stats don't mean much.

The Dodgers have one ace in the hole -- it's a contract year. Never underestimate the power of a contract year.

Ramirez is going to make a tidy $20 million this year, but he is also is in the last year of his deal. He has to perform to get the big bucks next year. The first words out of his mouth at training camp this year were that he would not be a Dodger next year, so he's going to have to hit well enough, and be a good enough citizen in the clubhouse, that another team will take a chance on him.

That, or he becomes such a distraction that the Dodgers have to trade him midseason. That is how they got him in he first place.

If Ramirez is hitting the ball, we probably won't see that. When he is hitting the cover off the ball, all is right in Manny's world. But if he hits a prolonged slump, or starts of slow, fans in Boston may get the chance to say "told you so."

But right now, days before the first pitch of the season? The only safe prediction is that Manny will be Manny.

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