Frenzy of three-team talks seals the deal on deadline
Edes on Mannywood
The Globe's Gordon Edes talks about the three-way trade that sent Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the expectations that will greet Jason Bay in Boston.
Frank McCourt, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and former Boston real estate magnate, was on Cape Cod last weekend and had spoken by telephone with Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino about the possibility of making a deal for Manny Ramírez. This time, he had sensed, the Sox were serious about trading their All-Star slugger.
But when he awakened yesterday in Malibu, Calif., having flown back from Boston the night before, McCourt expected a quiet morning on the beach. Several days earlier, the Dodgers had rejected a deal proposed by Sox general manager Theo Epstein that would have cost LA Andre Ethier, a blossoming young outfielder neither McCourt nor GM Ned Colletti was prepared to give up.
McCourt had long admired Ramírez's talent - he'd encouraged Colletti to talk to Epstein about Ramírez at baseball's winter meetings a couple of years earlier when the Sox were entertaining offers, only to decide against moving him. And he enjoyed Ramírez's quirky personality, laughing out loud when he saw television clips of Ramírez holding up a sign saying he would be traded straight up to Green Bay for Brett Favre.
But McCourt thought the Dodgers were out of the running for Ramírez, which is why he wasn't worried that his BlackBerry had no reception at the beach. It wasn't until he returned home that he learned from his secretary that he had a voice message awaiting him in the office. Lucchino had called again.
Colletti wasn't expecting to hear from the Red Sox, either, yesterday morning. He'd gone to bed the night before having read reports that the Sox were close to completing a three-way deal with the Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates in which the Marlins would wind up with Ramírez and the Sox would acquire outfielder Jason Bay from the Pirates.
Colletti was surprised when he got up yesterday morning to discover that the deal had not been completed. Then his phone rang. Epstein was on the line. The deal with the Marlins was falling apart. Florida, it was learned later, wanted not only Ramírez and cash to cover the nearly $7 million left on his contract, they wanted at least one more prospect. The Sox were searching for another trading partner that might replace the Marlins in swinging a three-way move with the Pirates, who had the outfielder, Bay, that the Sox considered adequate compensation for losing Ramírez.
Those two phone calls, one from Lucchino to McCourt, the other from Epstein to Colletti, set into motion a frenzied 3 1/2 hours of activity yesterday that resulted in the Dodgers acquiring Ramírez, the Sox acquiring Bay, and the Pirates landing outfielder Brandon Moss and pitcher Craig Hansen from the Sox, along with two prospects from Los Angeles.
"The deal got done at 3:59:59," said Neal Huntington, the Pirates' GM, at a press conference called by the club late yesterday afternoon.
Because of the money changing hands, commissioner Bud Selig had to sign off on the deal, which he did just minutes before the deadline. As of late last night, the Red Sox were still working on finalizing some remaining issues and had not confirmed the deal.
McCourt was in his office with manager Joe Torre, a few minutes before the 4 p.m. EDT trading deadline, the two prepared to walk together to a scheduled press conference about the World Baseball Classic, when he learned that the deal had been struck.
"As far as I'm concerned, Manny can stay in my guest house," McCourt joked, a reference to reports that Mark Teixeira, the slugger obtained by the rival Angels, planned to stay in the guest house of agent Scott Boras.
Colletti had called Torre a few days earlier, saying the Sox had floated a trial balloon with Ramírez. When he called Torre yesterday morning and told him there was a chance the deal might fall into place, Torre replied, "Oh, my God." Torre was one Dodger who would have no trouble recognizing Ramírez.
Boras was a significant player in this transaction as well. Ramírez had the right to veto any deal in accordance with baseball's "10-5 rule" for players with at least 10 years of major league service, five or more with the same team. While the Sox were still talking with the Marlins, Boras had negotiated an agreement with Boston whereby Ramírez would waive his veto rights in exchange for a major adjustment to his contract. The Sox agreed to drop the two one-year options tacked at the end, which made it a club's decision whether to bring back Ramírez for $20 million a season.
The Sox agreed. Ramírez could be traded, and was assured of becoming a free agent at the end of the season, eliminating an apparent source of anxiety, judging by comments he'd made in recent weeks. The elimination of the options also represented a potential bonanza for Boras, who hadn't negotiated the original contract. He now was assured of a percentage of any deal Ramírez would sign.
The Pirates, who liked Moss as a left fielder to replace Bay and thought a change of scenery might benefit Hansen, were willing to accept Boston's end of the proposal.
But as time passed, they kept dickering with the Dodgers about the prospects they would receive. The sides agreed on third baseman Andy LaRoche, the brother of Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche. The sticking point was the second prospect. The Dodgers said no to a series of names proposed by Pittsburgh; finally, they agreed on a 21-year-old Single A pitcher, Bryan Morris, who had been LA's top draft pick in 2006 but had missed the 2007 season because of Tommy John elbow surgery.
Lucchino and Werner were with the Sox baseball operations staff, which had worked with little sleep for several days, and had been deflated when the deal with Florida was falling apart. The brass had met Wednesday, a meeting that also included Epstein and manager Terry Francona, and while majority owner John W. Henry still seemed reluctant to make a deal, there was a growing consensus that it was a trade the Sox had to make.
Management had taken an informal poll of the club's veteran leaders; what it was hearing was that Francona was in danger of losing the clubhouse if Ramírez was allowed to continue in the same vein, begging off from playing because of injuries teammates privately questioned, obsessing on his contract, playing hard when the mood suited him.
Uniformed personnel and management also felt there was a risk Ramírez would quit on the team, even though he had plenty of incentive to play hard with a new contract at stake.
Bay was not anybody's idea of a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the Sox felt they had scored a coup, acquiring a quality player who would not hinder their efforts to return to the World Series.
Ramírez, meanwhile, showed up at Fenway Park and with the help of clubhouse attendant Pookie Jackson loaded his white Mercedes SUV with his bats and the rest of his equipment. So long, Yawkey Way. Mannywood, here we come.
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.