The Oakland A's are the clown car of baseball, a small market team crammed with weird ideas. Just when you think they've all emerged, another one pops out.
This week 's floppy-shoed, red-nosed development is Manny Ramirez, an almost 40-year-old, two-time drug violator whose last good year was in 2008. The A's agreed to a minor league contract with Ramirez; he's expected to be in camp on Friday.
General manager Billy Beane called the deal "low risk" on Tuesday. And that's true. The A's don't do high-risk financial moves. The A's will only be on the hook for less than $500,000 when -- if? -- Ramirez joins the major league roster after serving a 50-game suspension.
So, yes, it is low-risk. But the question isn't about risk. It's about why?
Two months ago, the A's were in the process of shredding the foundation of a decent young team, a team built on its strong young pitching staff. That was a team that could have used a big bat to get it over the top.
But this winter Beane dealt two-thirds of his starting rotation, along with his closer Andrew Bailey. The message in December was that the A's were, once again, in rebuilding mode.
Then the calendar flipped to 2012 and -- for whatever reason -- the A's seemed to reverse course. Maybe Beane is too distracted about deciding who to wear on the red carpet at the Academy Awards next weekend but his plans seem to be in flux. He went from rebuilding to ... something else. First, the A's signed Cuban free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in a surprising coup. And now the team has signed one of the great fallen sluggers of our time.
"We really couldn't find a reason not to," Beane said of signing Ramirez.
A's fans have no idea what's going on. Are they trying to win? Trying to sell tickets? Trying to send a message about their desired move to San Jose? Or simply trying to stuff the clown car?
On Tuesday Beane tried to sell this signing as Frank Thomas Redux. "In terms of the Manny signing, the one I'd compare it most to is Frank," Beane said.
Thomas came to the A's in 2006 and led the team to its last playoff berth. But Thomas was two years younger than Ramirez and hadn't already been suspended once and forced to retire once because he had turned up dirty on drug tests. And he joined a team with a pretty solid roster and pitching staff.
That isn't the kind of team Ramirez is joining.
The A's starting rotation has major question marks. Of the remaining starters, both Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson are coming off season-ending surgery. Projected opening-day starter Brandon McCarthy won nine games last year. The A's signed ancient Bartolo Colon to fill the void. And aside from second baseman Jemile Weeks and catcher Kurt Suzuki, it's hard to even guess Oakland's starting lineup.
Since Thomas' productive time in green and gold, Beane has been trying to recreate the experience. The Oakland Coliseum has been a pasture for aging, unproductive sluggers. Mike Piazza grazed there in 2007. In 2009 it was Jason Giambi's turn. Hideki Matsui stopped by in 2011. None of them made an impact.
Will Ramirez? Who knows? Manny hasn't been Manny for a very long time. Now he's going to be asked to help lead a team of kids in a decrepit stadium with a few thousand people in the stands.
It's not exactly Fenway in October. More like a clown car packed with weird ideas.