With one week to go before training camp, it looks like Manny Ramirez is actually going to follow through with those plans to play in the Dominican Republic this winter. He’s set to arrive this weekend and join Aguilas Cibaenas on Monday.
Ramirez retired from MLB in April after learning that he’d be suspended for 100 games for a second violation of the league’s steroids policy. ESPN Deportes reported later that month that he was planning to play in the D.R. this winter, and Aguilas team president Winston Llenas confirmed the news (hat tip: USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner). Apparently, his recent arrest on battery charges for hitting his wife won’t stop him from leaving the US.
Ramirez would almost certainly still have to serve that 100-game ban if he tried to return to MLB at some point. However, he wouldn’t be the first player to hang around playing winter ball for years after retiring from MLB. Fernando Valenzuela was done in the majors in 1997, but he pitched in Mexico up until 2006. Vinny Castilla played two seasons in Mexico after retiring from MLB following 2006.
Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.
Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.
As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.