Floundering in minors, the end of line is near for Manny Ramirez

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OAKLAND -- If there were a team, any baseball team, that could use the services of an aging slugger, a potential Hall of Famer -- no matter his age or agility -- it would appear to be the Oakland Athletics.

The A's are last in the American League in runs scored, in hits, in RBIs, in average, in on-base percentage, in slugging, in OPS. The A's offense (aside from the past four days when it uncharacteristically rallied against the first place Texas Rangers) has been uniformly abysmal.

Yet Manny Ramirez sits on the A's minor league bench, in a Sacramento River Cats uniform, unready or unable to help.

Which means it may finally be the end of the line for the player considered the best right-handed hitter of his generation.

"Right now we don't have all the information to make a good decision," A's general manager Billy Beane said.

The A's thought it was a good decision when they signed Ramirez to a low-risk contract in spring training. Ramirez retired in April 2011 after just five games with Tampa Bay, following a second positive test for performance enhancing drugs. He signed with the A's and had to serve a 50-game suspension before being eligible to return to baseball on May 30, the same day he turned 40. Ramirez was presented as a changed soul, a man who wanted a second chance and a veteran who could be an important mentor to young players like Yoenis Cespedes.

Instead, he's just been a gray-dreadlocked ineffective minor leaguer. He has hit just .243 with the River Cats, without any extra base hits and 10 strikeouts in 11 games. He hasn't played a full game in over a week, sidelined by a hamstring injury. The A's thought he may play this weekend, but nobody seems to be getting up their hopes or clearing space in the Oakland clubhouse. Manager Bob Melvin said that he was tracking Ramirez at the end of May, when he thought his arrival could be imminent, but isn't making any plans right now.

Beane said he's not disappointed that his project hasn't produced. "What we said from the beginning is that if it becomes a situation where he can help us, then he's an option," Beane said. "But until he starts playing and starts hitting, that's not the case."

Could it be that Manny simply can't be Manny in the minor leagues? There's a school of thought that Ramirez is in an unfamiliar environment: stick him in a big-league clubhouse facing big-league pitching and the old Ramirez might emerge.

"That's a little bit of hope being a strategy and not necessarily being a good one," Beane said. "Had he just played last September you could certainly apply that logic. But we're talking about a guy who hasn't played for a year and a half. There needs to be some balance. You can't just say, 'Let's try it out.'"

Beane doesn't have any time pressure to make a decision. The A's have been slumping in the division race so there's no urgency to bring Manny up for a little bump of productivity.

"I made the point from Day 1 that this is a free look, so to speak," Beane said. "There is no downside, and that's still the case. We're still not at the point where we have to make a decision."

Still, it's hard to imagine Ramirez happily biding his time with the River Cats indefinitely.

"That would be unrealistic," Beane said.

Ramirez' goal was to get back to the big leagues, to find a measure of redemption for a career that ended in ignominy.

He told the San Francisco Chronicle in mid-May that he would be ready to play with the A's and said, "God didn't bring me to Oakland to fail."

Ramirez didn't mention if God had any particular plans for his time in Sacramento.

When a big-name player attempts a return, everyone gets tangled up in memories, eager to witness a final chapter. But too often the comebacks fizzle in the harsh glare of reality and age.

At some point fairly soon, this situation will be resolved. It's looking more and more likely that it will end with a mutual decision to part ways rather than one last flash of glory.

Because if Ramirez can't find a job with the Oakland A's, it means his career is really over.