MLB

Indians' Shapiro says Ramirez's return unlikely

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CLEVELAND (AP)

Indians president Mark Shapiro says now is the time to go for the AL Central title, and the front office is looking for ways to strengthen the first-place club.

Just don't expect to see Manny Ramirez back in Cleveland.

Speaking to fans from the Indians' social media program, Shapiro says general manager Chris Antonetti will be heavily involved in trade talks before the July 31 deadline. But he says a Ramirez return is unlikely.

''Chances of that are not real good,'' Shapiro said of the 40-year-old Ramirez, released by Oakland on June 15. ''I never say never, but I don't think Manny's a short-term answer at this time.''

Ramirez, who hit 236 homers in eight seasons with the Tribe, was released by Oakland on June 15.

Shapiro fielded questions Friday and outlined team priorities. Topping the list is winning a World Series, which hasn't happened in Cleveland in nearly 64 years.

''If you are not in it to win the World Series, why are you in it?'' Shapiro said. ''There are times when you have to make a move with one eye on the present and one on the future. When you have the opportunity, you have to seize the moment and take advantage. Yes, I think it is possible that we can win. Now.''

Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti have discussed ways to improve the ballclub. Ramirez's name came up.

''There are times when I talk with Chris and say, `You know, if we rolled out the whole 1995 team in walkers and wheelchairs, it would be a popular decision,' but with Manny, we believe there are better options out there,'' Shapiro said.

He did not reveal a wish list, but Cleveland's left-handed laden lineup is in dire need of a right-handed run producer. One capable of playing left field would be even better.

One fan joked before asking a question that he was ready to play left field, where neither Shelley Duncan, Johnny Damon nor Aaron Cunningham have performed as hoped.

''It wouldn't take much to improve us there,'' Shapiro said candidly.

Damon is hitting .203, Duncan .195 and Cunningham .194. Still the Indians, after a three-game interleague sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, hold a half-game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

Shapiro believes the division is up for grabs and does not count out Detroit, 2 1-2 games out and with a $133 million payroll twice that of Cleveland.

''The division is wide open - and that's a good thing,'' he said. ''Detroit will be better. Chicago has shown what they can do. The other two teams (Kansas City and Minnesota) are just a 12-day hot streak away from being right there.''

Shapiro is more concerned that the Indians play up to - or beyond - their expectations.

''At the start of the year, it looked as if 93 to 95 wins would take the division,'' Shapiro said. ''Now, it looks more like 90. We still have to win those games, though.''

With more consistent starting pitching, the return of designated hitter Travis Hafner from knee surgery and possibly an addition or two, Shapiro says Cleveland can get to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

''(Ubaldo) Jimenez and (Justin) Masterson have pitched well of late,'' he said. ''We need a bat in the lineup like `Haf' and who knows, maybe Grady (Sizemore) surprises us and comes back to help.''

Sizemore, a three-time all-star, signed a one-year, $5 million contract last winter despite missing much of the past three seasons with a variety of injuries. The outfielder hurt his back early in spring training, had surgery, and continues to work out with the team - though there is no timetable for his return.

Tagged: Indians, Athletics, Manny Ramirez

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