12/10/08 9:44 PM EST
Market for Manny slow to develop
Some teams may wonder how long positive attitude will last
The Winter Meetings is buzz central regarding free agents and the buzz is clearly audible in the cases of, for instance, CC Sabathia, now taken off the market with the Yankees' mammoth deal, or first baseman Mark Teixeira, or any number or reputable starting pitchers, relief pitchers, veteran position players.
But the Manny Ramirez buzz? It's a Simon & Garfunkel tune -- "The Sound of Silence."
Ramirez lifted the Dodgers to the postseason with a performance that was somewhere between astounding and superhuman: a .396 batting average, .489 on-base percentage, .743 slugging percentage, 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 53 games. This performance, however, did not trigger a mad, immediate rush for his services.
The Dodgers last month made Ramirez a two-year, $45 million offer, with a club option for a third year at $15 million. This was much less money, and fewer years, than Ramirez and his agent, the emperor of the agent industry, Scott Boras, were seeking. Ramirez did not respond to the Dodgers' offer. The Dodgers subsequently withdrew it. There has been no rush by other franchises to fill the void and sign the slugger.
Does this mean that there is no Manny Market? In all likelihood, it means that there will be a Manny Market later, after the No. 1 position player commodity in this offseason is signed. That would be Teixeira, another Boras client. Presumably, those clubs that are disappointed in their pursuit of Teixeira, but still need middle-of-the-lineup pop, would then make an adjustment in the direction of Manny.
Boras, in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters on Wednesday, suggested that there were nine or 10 clubs that needed a No. 3 or 4 hitter, and that some of them had contacted him regarding Ramirez. He also indicated that he had renewed contact with the Dodgers and made a point of restating how much Ramirez had enjoyed his time in Los Angeles.
There is no disputing the Hall of Fame talent involved here, or the most recent display of that talent with the Dodgers. If this were merely a matter of that talent, even the fact that Ramirez will turn 37 next May would not be a deterrent to a truly lucrative new contract.
But Manny, for all his talent, does not come to this free-agent moment as an unmixed blessing. There may be clubs that view him primarily through the focus of his most recent work with the Dodgers. But there may also be clubs that are fully and continuously mindful of the circumstances of his departure from the Boston Red Sox.
Ramirez wanted a new contract from the Red Sox, against the possibility of the Red Sox exercising a $20 million club option on his contract for both 2009 and 2010. When the new contract did not appear to be a viable possibility, his relationship with the rest of the Boston operation went south. A scuffle with a teammate, a physical confrontation with a traveling secretary and some incidents that raised genuine doubts about his willingness to appear in the lineup, practically forced the Red Sox to deal him.
At the end, the rest of the Red Sox players were alienated by his behavior and the club was so highly motivated to move him that, as part of a three-team deal, it paid the remainder of his 2008 salary while he played for the Dodgers. The message was that the Sox were desperate to rid themselves of Manny.
Ramirez was then on his best behavior with the Dodgers, both personally and professionally. His presence transformed the L.A. lineup, and in the clubhouse he was all collegial high spirits. This revival, of course, was an absolute necessity, with free agency next on his agenda.
With Ramirez, his next employer will get indisputable offensive talent, an indifferent outfielder and a valid question as to how long his recent, pervasively positive attitude will hold up under the day-to-day strains of playing big league baseball.
Beyond that, there is the question of how many years, at major money, a team should be willing to give a man moving into his late 30s. Ramirez has doubtless kept himself in wonderful shape, but at this juncture, his best position would probably be designated hitter. There are 16 clubs that don't have that spot available.
Still, his 53 games of bliss with the Dodgers, and their need for his run production, might make Los Angeles a more likely spot for him than the overall circumstances of his career would suggest.
Ramirez will not be permanently shut out of the free-agent bidding and will require no public assistance by winter's end. Later in this offseason, a Manny Market will emerge, and one final big payday may yet be his. But there will be clubs with a real need for a top-shelf run producer who will have no part of the Manny Market.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.