Manny’s time in L.A. has run its course

Manny Ramirez is close to returning from the disabled list. Or so we’re told. He had a base hit and walk for the storied Inland Empire 66ers on Wednesday night.

But he’s not necessarily going to be an upgrade over the guy currently playing left field for the Dodgers.

You know, Scott Podsednik.

It’s enough to make you wonder why the Dodgers don’t just trade Manny now.

Come to think of it, that’s precisely what they should do.

The Dodgers, seven games back in the National League wild card standings entering Wednesday, aren’t going to make the playoffs. Ramirez, a free-agent-to-be, almost certainly won’t be back in 2011.

The “Mannywood” sign — a bit of clever marketing that was so 2008 — is gone from the left-field wall at Dodger Stadium. Advertisements for KABC-AM and John Hancock are there instead.

Why wait to expunge him from the roster, too?

Yes, the Dodgers are better with a healthy, productive Ramirez in their lineup. The problem is that Ramirez has been neither healthy nor consistently productive this year.

Joe Torre’s team is 11 games over .500 when Ramirez starts in left field. The problem is that there have been only 45 such games. The most recent came July 16.

Ramirez, in fact, has had three official at-bats in the big leagues since June 29. Three!

Ramirez has spent enough time on rehabilitation assignments that he may soon have enough at-bats to qualify for the California League batting title. In L.A., however, he has been a nonfactor for nearly two months.

But try telling that to a left-handed reliever who sees him in the on-deck circle on Sept. 21. Even in his diminished state, Manny has value. It’s just that the Dodgers are no longer the team that fits him best.

Ramirez should clear trade waivers easily, since he’s due roughly $3.5 million over the remainder of the season. The Dodgers can place him on waivers during his rehabilitation assignment, as long as the team certifies that he has returned to his customary performance level. So, in theory, he could be available on the trade market by early next week.

Even if the acquiring team picks up a little salary, the Dodgers will save money. And don’t be fooled by the recent signing of first-round pick Zach Lee. Due to the McCourt divorce, the motto of this franchise remains THINK CHEAP, not THINK BLUE.

Ramirez served as the designated hitter in the minors Wednesday night. That was apt. DH duty in the American League would be Ramirez’s best role for the remainder of this season — and probably his career.

Ramirez batted .360 while serving as the DH over six interleague games in June. So he can handle the job. The series of right leg ailments — calf, hamstring, calf again — would presumably be less of an issue if he weren’t meandering about in left field. For what it’s worth, the Dodgers said he would play left for Inland Empire tonight

Given the questions about his reliability and durability, Ramirez’s market value is at a relative low point. For the purposes of his next contract, what could be better than helping an AL team in September and October?

In other words: Don’t expect Scott Boras to intercede and tell Ramirez that he should invoke his no-trade clause. Boras’ next commission from the account of Manuel Aristides Ramirez hinges on whether No. 99 does something of value between now and the end of the season.

Boras reaffirmed in an interview earlier this week that Ramirez does, in fact, want to play in 2011. But it has been exactly two months since Manny’s last home run.

Podsednik, meanwhile, has done a capable job since arriving in a July 28 trade with Kansas City. He entered Wednesday with the team lead in hits this month (21). He creates runs with his speed, as he did in the first inning Wednesday. It goes without saying that he’s a better defender than Manny.

So the Dodgers can trade Ramirez without punting on the season, because Podsednik, all things considered, might give them a better chance to win now.

Frankly, outfielder Jay Gibbons, back in the majors for the first time since 2007, may offer more than Manny at the moment.

So where could Manny go? Well, the White Sox and Rays had interest in Ramirez before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. Both of them still could use another hitter.

As if to underscore the value of aging sluggers, the White Sox watched Jim Thome, their former DH, sting them with a walk-off home run Tuesday night in Minnesota.

Maybe Ramirez could become as valuable for the White Sox or Rays as Thome has been for the Twins.

At the moment, Manny can’t be considered a distraction for the Dodgers. He is irrelevant. As long as he stays in L.A., that’s not going to change.

It’s not time for Manny to come back.

It’s time for him to go.