PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Manny Ramirez is ahead of schedule in his bid to re-establish himself as one of baseball’s most fearsome sluggers.
The 12-time All-Star worked out with the Tampa Bay Rays for the first time Thursday, arriving at spring training with a “chip on my shoulder” and motivated to prove he’s still a productive player.
Ramirez agreed to a $2 million, one-year contract, joining Johnny Damon as the biggest offseason acquisitions by the AL East champions.
Slowed by injuries, the 38-year-old hit .298 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in 90 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox last season. He’ll be primarily a designated hitter with Tampa Bay, but there’s a chance he’ll occasionally play left field, too.
The Rays’ first full-squad workout isn’t until Monday. Ramirez, who’ll turn 39 in May, reported Wednesday — five days early.
“Definitely, I’m looking forward to a new year and to go out there and see what I can do,” the .313 career hitter with 555 home runs in 17 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Dodgers and White Sox said.
Although he helped the Dodgers make the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, his production has slipped since May 2009, when he was suspended 50 games for using a banned female fertility drug.
Ramirez spent part of this winter training in Arizona — where he trimmed 12 pounds from last year’s playing weight of 237 — and is being counted on to add some punch to a lineup that lost Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena to free agency.
He’ll likely bat cleanup, behind All-Star Evan Longoria.
“I just got a chip on my shoulder that I want to be here, I want to get my stuff right and show people I can play,” Ramirez said.
“I think every player during the offseason prepares to have a great season. We love to compete, and it doesn’t matter what you did last year, it’s a new year. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have to go out there and show people you can do it.”
Manager Joe Maddon had dinner with Ramirez the night before he and Damon officially signed with the Rays. In addition to being excited about having Ramirez in camp early, he likes what’s heard from the 2004 World Series MVP.
“I just see a guy who’s focused and is driven right now,” Maddon said. “I love the idea that he feels as though he needs to go out there or wants to go out there and prove something. It’s going to benefit him and us.”
Longoria worked out with Ramirez in Arizona during the offseason and thinks he’s poised to have a big season.
After watching the Rays lose Crawford, Pena and eight other key players from last season’s postseason roster through free agency or trades, Longoria welcomed the addition of Ramirez and Damon, who were once teammates in Boston.
“I’m excited. I think we all are,” Longoria said, adding that he was confident all along that Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman would find a way help the cost-conscious Rays remain competitive in baseball’s toughest division.
“Andrew made it clear to me going into the offseason that obviously we knew we were going to lose some guys, but that they were going to make a big effort to continue the winning ways here and get guys in here that want to win and are the right guys for the Rays. I think they did a great job.”
Although Ramirez said he doesn’t care where Maddon decides to put him in the batting order, Longoria relishes the prospect of hitting one spot in front of a Manny who’s determined to show he’s still one of the game’s better hitters.
“He had some injuries last year and didn’t really have one of the best years of his career, but I think he’s out to prove that he’s still the Manny Ramirez of old,” Longoria said. “I’m hoping that he is. I’m enthusiastic and looking forward to it.”
Ramirez insisted he isn’t driven by numbers and wouldn’t speculate on what he would consider to be a good year beyond staying healthy, which would lend to him being productive. He’s 45 homers shy of 600 for his career, but said that doesn’t mean a lot to him, either.
“It don’t matter, man — 500, 600, 800 — because, you know, when you die, none of that matters,” Ramirez said. “They can make you a statue, it doesn’t matter when you die.”