For Manny Ramirez, as most everyone predicted, the final two months of the 2008 season were a forgone conclusion. Ramirez proved he can still hit. He proved he can be a respectful teammate.
|MAZZ'S HOT STOVE SERIES: Continuing today and ending on Nov. 13, the day before free agents can sign with any team, the Globe's Tony Massarotti will tackle an offseason topic of interest to Red Sox fans each day. Check out the schedule below.|
Shortstop in focus
Yankees: Under construction
Handicapping the field of potential Manny suitors
Top prize: Mark Teixeira
Potential Sox trade partners
Big-ticket starters and the art of building a bullpen
Tony's best- and worst-case offseason scenarios for the Red Sox and Yankees
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Now the 36-year-old slugger just has to prove he can sustain it at this stage of his career. Otherwise, his performance in August, September, and October will go down as nothing more than perhaps the greatest salary drive in modern baseball history.
For the latter to prove true, Ramirez must secure a sizable contract in the next few months, something that may be growing more likely despite the perception of him here in New England. Agent Scott Boras will try to explain Ramirez's behavior during his 7 1/2 seasons here by stressing that Ramirez was unhappy in Boston, where baseball is serious business. In a more relaxed environment, the agent will argue, Ramirez will give a team precisely what he gave the Los Angeles Dodgers:
A man who led the major leagues in batting average (.396), on-base percentage (.489) and slugging percentage (.743) over the final two months of the regular season, then, astoundingly, raised his production even more, batting .520 with a .667 on-base percentage, 1.080 slugging percentage, four homers, 10 RBIs and 11 walks in eight postseason games.
So where will Ramirez end up? That all depends on who takes the bait.
We'll break down the possibilities:
New York Mets. Armed with a new contract, general manager Omar Minaya has the funds and the need to put Ramirez in the middle of his lineup. The Mets need help in other areas, too, but Minaya has coveted Ramirez in the past and has demonstrated a willingness to sign players to absurd contracts. Sounds like the perfect marriage, at least in the short term.
Philadelphia Phillies. The reigning world champions may lose left fielder Pat Burrell to free agency, so who better to replace him than Manny? Aside from being reunited with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel -- he was Cleveland's hitting coach when Ramirez played for the Indians -- he would play in a small ballpark in a lineup with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. One glitch: Pat Gillick, who just stepped down as Philly's GM but is staying on in an advisory role, is too smart to advocate signing a guy like Manny. (We think.)
Los Angeles Dodgers. Ramirez took Los Angeles by storm in the final months, but the Dodgers are no fools and they know his reputation. The big issue here will be length of contract. The Globe's Nick Cafardo reported today the Dodgers made Manny an offer, believed to be worth $22.9 million and $27.5 million per season but only two or three seasons in duration. Ramirez is likely to get a longer deal elsewhere. But if he doesn't, the Dodgers are as good a fit as anyone else. Ramirez already showed the difference he can make there.
New York Yankees. Obviously, the Yankees have the capability to outbid any team for any player at any time, and Hank Steinbrenner is on record as saying he likes Ramirez. So why aren't they among the favorites? Because indications are that the Yankees would much rather have Mark Teixeira, who is a better fit for their needs. But if Teixeira ends up elsewhere -- like, say, Boston -- the Yankees could immediately become the frontrunners for Manny.
San Francisco Giants. Sounds crazy, right? But think about it: Following the departure of Barry Bonds, the Giants payroll dipped by about $15 million last year. They have good young pitching and finished the year on an upswing, and the National League West is socialism at its finest. Adding Ramirez to the mix could make the Giants relevant again -- and division contenders.
Los Angeles Angels. Before anyone takes this to heart, let us stress that the Angels are at the lower portion of this bracket for a reason. The Angels prefer complete players who hustle and play good defense, and Ramirez will give them neither over the long term. The only question is whether the Angels might change course if they lose out on Teixeira, but Manny and Vladimir Guerrero effectively would give manager Mike Scioscia two DHs.
Toronto Blue Jays. The big question concerns the money, and the Jays don't appear to have enough. Nonetheless, we thought the same about Roger Clemens years ago, and we all know where he ended up. Toronto took major hits on the pitching staff and could use a productive outfielder and/or DH, and Ramirez's presence would immediately make better hitters of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, among others. Remember: Toronto won 86 games this year -- and finished fourth.
Arizona Diamondbacks. In all of major league baseball, there may be no team more desperate for a credentialed run producer. Arizona has a fabulous pitching staff and some good young players, but the Diamondbacks lack the kind of lineup presence that could make all of the pieces jell. Money is obviously an issue. And after seeing Manny's act firsthand during his time with the Red Sox, does Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes really want the headache?
Seattle Mariners. After the Richie Sexson debacle, the Mariners are not likely to make the same mistakes again, especially after tanking with close to a $120 million payroll in 2008. Still, if Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez are healthy ... and if the bullpen is in order ... wouldn't he make sense for them? Manny can hit the ball out of the Grand Canyon. Seattle plays in it.
Washington Nationals. According to one National League evaluator, the Nationals are interested in adding a big bat this offseason and are willing to pay handsomely for it. Sounds like a perfect marriage, no? The bigger question here is whether Ramirez would have any interest in playing for a Nationals club that is positively wretched. Can't help but wonder if he thinks they play in the Pacific Northwest, too.
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