Where will Manny land next season?
Mets keep cropping up as possible destination for slugger
There is no question as to how the Los Angeles Dodgers ended up in postseason play this season.
The same answer comes from all corners -- Manny Ramirez.
The biggest question remaining to be answered is where Ramirez will end up playing next year.
I posed the question to a veteran Major League general manager a few days ago and the answer came quickly and without hesitation: "I think Manny will be with the New York Mets next season."
Having heard the viewpoint of a general manager who is well-tuned to the baseball scene, I decided to ask one of the leading agents in the game.
"We've discussed this in our office and we feel there are four possible teams that would be in the bidding," the agent said. "Those teams are the Mets, Giants, Phillies and Dodgers."
Just to round out this small sample poll, I decided to ask a national baseball writer to get the media's viewpoint, and the answer came with like results: "I think the Dodgers will make a strong play, but I think Manny will sign with the Mets."
An interesting part of my little survey is that no one mentioned the New York Yankees as a possible contender for Ramirez's services. It just may be that the franchise can't quite picture Ramirez modeling pinstripes.
At this point, of course, no team officials interested in Ramirez are mentioning him by name because he is under contract to the Dodgers. Team owner Frank McCourt has said he won't discuss the status of Ramirez or his general manager, Ned Colletti, because the focus needs to be on the Dodgers advancing in postseason play.
That said, Colletti is in a position where the only thing he really can say about Ramirez's status for next year is, "There are a lot of dynamics to it."
General managers who may have an eye on Ramirez also are left to talk in general terms at this point in regards to the needs of their teams.
Mets general manager Omar Minaya met with the media on Monday, and when asked about his plans for 2009, he stated: "You have to start off by saying to yourself, 'Be open to everything.'"
While Minaya was answering questions about next season on the East Coast, Giants general manager Brian Sabean addressed the needs of his team by saying, "We have to have one or two guys on this team who can hit a three-run homer."
The Giants have found the absence of the big bat of Barry Bonds is not an easy item to replace. Catcher Bengie Molina led the team in home runs with 16, one fewer than Ramirez hit in 53 games for the Dodgers.
Any interest in Ramirez by the Phillies will hinge on the status of their own slugging free-agent outfielder, Pat Burrell, who delivered 33 home runs this season.
It seems a safe bet that McCourt will do everything possible to retain Ramirez. The slugging outfielder has been a sensation in Los Angeles and has captured the hearts of the Dodgers fans.
In one-third of a season in Los Angeles, Ramirez's statistics were remarkable, with 17 home runs, 53 RBIs and a .396 batting average. But as good as the numbers were, they were overshadowed by the player's spirit and outgoing personality.
What Ramirez provided to the Dodgers is the very thing the Mets lacked this year, as they struggled to their second consecutive heartbreaking finish.
The Dodgers turned from a tentative team to one with swagger and confidence once Ramirez landed. The music started to pour out of the clubhouse and the applause filled Dodger Stadium.
The Mets, meanwhile, were a team without that big star who enjoyed being in the spotlight.
The team needs to do something dramatic to shake off the past two unsuccessful finishes as it moves into its new park, Citi Field. Ramirez would be the immediate headline attraction.
The Mets' 2008 payroll was $137 million, but they will probably shed $31.5 million in free-agent pitchers Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez and left fielder Moises Alou.
In a way, the Mets' collapse in the final days and the Dodgers' Ramirez-charged postseason run has created a perfect storm for agent Scott Boras.
Ramirez recognized he had a golden opportunity when he came to the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline. He may not have realized at the time just how much gold would be involved.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book -- "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" -- was published by SportsPublishingLLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.