Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Manny Ramirez: There Is No Option Two

And with Tuesday morning's rejection of the Dodgers' third and "final final" offer, the hope of Manny Ramirez returning to the Dodgers in 2009 summarily evaporated. At least, that's where we think it's ended, though Scott Boras came out and said Tuesday night that "he expects to resume contract negotiations with Ned Colletti today."

So maybe it isn't over. Maybe it is. Maybe Manny will be a Giant next year, a disaster scenario that strikes despair in the heart of any Dodger fan, let alone Brian Sabean with his $90M payroll limit shattered. Or maybe Ramirez will come back to the Dodgers and be the otherworldly force of human nature that propelled the Dodgers into the playoffs--nay, into the NLCS--last year.

Bill Simmons over at ESPN the Rag did a surprisingly good job at summarizing the Manny dilemma, describing Ramirez as "underrated" despite his hostage taking of the Dodgers:

Forget the sheer entertainment value that comes from following Manny on a daily basis. Just look at the stats. He's three quality seasons away—90 HRs, 300 RBIs, 550 hits and a .900 OPS—from becoming the greatest righthanded hitter ever. Add those to his career numbers, and he's sitting in the top 10 in career OPS and slugging, the top three in RBIs, the top seven in homers and closing in on 3,000 hits. And no one who saw him in all his Ruthian glory with the Dodgers last summer or reach base 24 of 36 times in October can honestly say he's washed up. Say he tanked it in Boston, but only after you concede that he played 22 of 24 games for them in July and had the best offensive month of anyone on a team he was allegedly quitting on.

Whatever. The guy was created to hit baseballs. Even at 36, he can perform this task at an abnormally high level, make any decent team good and any good team great. And yet nobody wants him after his messy divorce with Boston—a divorce that, by the way, the Red Sox cannot escape without blame. Manny gave them seven quality years and two titles, and they yanked him around in Year 8. No, he didn't handle it well; I'm not sure I would have handled it well either.

So he's spent the winter sitting on the open market like a sofa on Craigslist. The Angels, who need him more than anyone, claim they're fine with Juan Rivera. Really? Juan Rivera? That's what you're telling your fans? I don't get it.

All I can tell you is this: Manny is immensely fun to watch day in and day out. He's a monster offensive force, a historic one, even. And he is exceedingly, incredibly available. He will draw fans to any ballpark, and nobody is interested. You can say it's because he's a cancer; I say it's because he's unequivocally underrated.

I am usually not much of a Simmons fan, and I did consider the fact that this may be the evil mind game of a jilted Red Sox fan trying to goad the Dodgers, or someone else, into biting into the poisonous apple just so he can laugh at the sucker team in his column for the next four to five years, should Manny revert to a clubhouse cancer and phone it in each night.

But Simmons does have a point here: Manny Ramirez is exciting as heck to watch as a player. Any fan who came to Dodger Stadium last year and saw a game pre-Manny, and compared it with a game post-Manny, would agree. I'm out there cheering for all the young guys, knowing that one day one may become a superstar as well. But it's nothing like Manny. When he stepped into the batter's box, you put down your Dodger dog, put the beer in the cup holder, and watched. And more often than not, Ramirez delivered.

So Frank and Ned can go out there and proclaim "at some point, we have to move on," but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that any other option isn't even close to being the same. Adam Dunn? Bobby Abreu? Please. That's like comparing a mini-Cooper to a Porsche. They're serviceable hitters--maybe even more attractive economical choices. But are you really going to fire up the car and get off your couch to drive to Dodger Stadium to watch Adam Dunn? And with our half-a-starting-rotation, is there anyone else?

I go to around 10 to 15 games a year regularly, but I'm lucky enough to live close to the stadium so I can make the late call on the fly. Kids already asleep, or an intriguing promotional giveaway, or a pair of tickets fall into my hand? I'm there. But without Manny? I don't know. Factoring in the $15 parking and the $12 beer this year is going to be a lot harder to justify, especially if the entertainment value is definitely at a decline from prior years.

Even as a die-hard Dodger fan, I'm not going to those borderline games if Manny isn't in the lineup. I'm watching on television, for free. And I have a feeling that there's a lot of you that are with me (both on going to fewer games, as well as more cautious about personal finances).

-------

So Frank and Ned can say whatever they want to in the press; it's a negotiation. "We gave him what we thought was a creative proposal." (Except for the fact that it's not the longer-term deal for which he has explicitly asked, true.) "The agent [Boras] is challenging to work with." (No shit, that's why he's an agent, you idiot.) "We've tried hard...I feel very good about the team." (Who are you kidding?)

If the Dodgers really wanted to get creative, they would have expanded the number of years from their original two-year offer, adding performance incentives to insure against lackadaisical play in the out years. Worries about Manny being Manny, or Manny pulling a hammy, are resolved. The Dodgers get a marquee player--perhaps the only one on the team--for years. Done. Easy. Get to work, Ned.

If the Dodgers front office feels cornered, this is only due to their own doing. Their rental of Ramirez last year didn't hit the payroll, but everyone was well aware that it came with the big Boras strings attached. Now that it's time to pay the piper, just like an exploding ARM rate, it's hard to cry foul that you didn't know what was coming. If the Dodgers wanted some negotiating leverage, they would have gone out and signed a CC Sabathia so that they would already have a shotgun shell in the marquee-player chamber, and wouldn't walk into February with a pitching and batting lineup grossly exposed with holes. (Remember all that blather earlier this offseason about "we may need pitching needs more than we need Manny"? Well, now we still have both sets of needs. And it's Spring Training.)

Frank McCourt has cornered himself, and the only remedy now is to open up the pocketbook, something he doesn't like to do (ask the city about the Dodger Trolley), unless it's buying multi-million dollar houses for himself, of course. All of the front office's worst tendencies--excessive parsimony, organizational complacency, public relations ineptitude--are in fine display here. Top-tier MLB teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets have already addressed most of their needs. The Dodgers still have a lot of shopping left to do.

-------

For most of Frank McCourt's management regime, Nomar Garciaparra has been the face of the Dodger organization. Polite, articulate, occasionally heroic (the 4+1 game, for example) and giving to the community, it was easy to root for Garciaparra despite his litany of injuries and declining defensive abilities. But now Nomar is gone. And who is going to be the face of the organization now?

The best pickup so far this offseason, Rafael Furcal, coming back from injuries? The Ed-Hardy adorned Russell Martin, coming back from a sophomore slump? James Loney, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, finally getting used to the limelight? Chad Billingsley, hoping to shake off the playoff blues? Jonathan Broxton, forced into the closer's position by default?

Any of those players might be fine. I like them all. I'll root for them. I'll stand behind them. But not like I'd root for Manny.

Just sign Manny, Colletti, and be done with this awful ice-melting-paced standoff. The deal economics may not pencil out--but hey, that's the price of getting Manny to test-drive for free for two and half months last year. Manny Ramirez is the only viable candidate who can excite the fan base and be the face of the organization for the next two to three years. And any other alternative does not come close.

19 comments:

Neeebs said...

Sax: Nice article. But where was the gag line???? (JK)

At some point, you have to look at Manny/Boras and say, "Enough."

So Manny is a great hitter when Manny is motivated. Do the Dodgers simply give in to his demand for a four year deal? Even with incentives? There is no way the Dodgers are going to go out that far into the future with a big contract, given the past fiascos and the age of Manny.

I like Manny. He's exciting to watch. He's a first ballot HOF. But Manny is not bigger than the team.

Frankly, I'd rather the Dodgers do something to shore up its pitching staff which is considerably weaker than last year's staff.

Eric Karros said...

Nice post Sax. Though are you basically saying Ned should do whatever it takes to sign Manny because there's nobody else of his caliber available?

Nobody argues that Dunn or Abreu or anybody else is the same as Manny. Plus I recognize the attendance attraction thing isn't as big a factor for me personally as it should be from a business perspective.

All that said, I think I'm with Neeebs here. He's like baseball's T.O. without the abs.

Enough. Walk away.

Andrew said...

It infuriates me that we can so easily sign the likes of Juan Pierre to long contracts for comparitively similar figures without batting an eye, yet get tight sphincter when it comes to someone like Manny, who, even when he "quits" on his team has an OPS of .900+. Plus, as was stated, he brings fans to the game.

I think pitching is a completely seperate issue. The market is thin and we will fill the holes with what is out there...for relatively cheap.

Additionally, how stale is the trade market? Would trading someone like Loney, who should have good value for pitching, signing Dunn and Manny be such an awful idea?

QuadSevens said...

I'm with you Sax. The Dodgers need Manny badly. We have to face facts: we have no power in our lineup. Manny is a proven power hitter who can also hit for average. That's worth paying for. Manny hit 17 HRs for the Dodgers last year in only 53 games! That's only one behind Kemp in 155 games, and three behind Ethier (our team leader) in 141 games. We didn't even have a player get 100 RBIs last year.

I say give Manny the 4 years $100 million contract. He will sell season tickets, he will attract new fans, he will even sell more Manny wigs! McCourt will make his money back with ease and the Dodgers will be at the top of the NL West for the next 4 years. Signing Manny will give us the best chance to win a World Series title. And that's what every Dodgers fan really wants.

Eric Karros said...

4 years at $100 million? Why, that's 40% more than even the great Bud Selig makes!

Seriously though...his time with the Dodgers was perhaps the most productive 10 weeks I've ever seen him or any other hitter produce. And he seemed like a perfect clubhouse influence throughout. And now he's being priced at that peak value. Don't buy at the peak. At least not for more than 2 years.

Yes, the 1 year $25 million was never going to fly. But I wouldn't go beyond the 2 years $45 million already rejected.

I do agree with Andrew though that it adds an extra level of frustration that we do manage to pony up for the wrong guys.

QuadSevens said...

Ok, we don't want to buy at the peak, but we need to attract him back to LA. How about a three year deal with a base salary of $20 million per year with the following incentives:

$1 million for making at least 500 plate appearances
$1 million for leading the team in HRs
$1 million for leading the team in RBIs
$1 million if the team wins the NL West
$1 million if the team wins the World Series

With these incentives we ensure that Manny doesn't slack off and doesn't poison the clubhouse. He needs to perform well and have the team perform well to get the bonuses. This will also allow the Dodgers to say they are offereing Manny 3 years worth up to $75 million. Maybe they can even throw in an option for a fourth year.

Eric Karros said...

Quad, I shall consider your offer and revert shortly.

Orel said...

We're reading too much into Boras & Colletti's little tango. Both sides need to save face: Boras needs to admit the Dodgers are the only team for Manny, and Colletti needs to include some long-term provision. Two years at $48 million plus a team option for a third year at $20 million versus a $8 million buyout gets it done.

Andrew said...

I think this has been my biggest problem with McCourt...is that while it was annoying to see the mismanagement during the Murdoch years, the Dodgers are a big market team that attracts a large fan base relatively unrelated to the product out on the field, yet he always seems to be cutting corners when it comes to talent by finding flawed and usually overpriced talent. And the one time we flirt with a legit superstar with a very good track record, the money doesn't seem to be there.

Not living in LA, I haven't been to a game at DS in a couple years, but my brother refuses. People in LA have paid a hefty price increase in recent years to support the team and McCourt never seems to take any accountability when it comes to tough decisions. For once, with much fan support to perhaps overpay a star, he seems to get cold feet to make a stiff offer to Manny. It seems 3/55-60 with incentives would be a good deal on both sides, and it will probably happen, but the waiting seems to make other holes that need to be addressed more gaping.

Hong Like a Chi Kuo said...

Quad,

I will go ahead and disagree that "we have no power in our lineup."

Here are Shandler's HR projections for the Dodger batters:

Raffy - 17
Ethier - 26
Kemp - 21
Blake - 21
Loney - 13
DeWitt - 14
Martin - 12

Manny - 30
Dunn - 41
Abreu - 18

There are 3 Dodger regulars with over 20 HR. When was the last time you saw that in Chavez? Let's say, for argument's sake that they sign one of those 3 FA. There's a 20, 30 or even 40 HR hitter included in that mix. That's plenty of power in the NL West. Def. more than the Dads and Giants.

Personally I think that Loney can hit for more power than that, especially with a full season of Mattingly coaching him. Manny is obviously a superior hitter to Dunn, but Dunn has a lot of value at a much smaller price. Sure, he'll whiff 175 times and hit .250, but his OBP will be .360-.380 because he's going to walk 115-120 times, still drive in 100 runs and hit in front of Loney and Kemp who can both hit around or above .300.

Abreu is the last-ditch, we screwed up royal in the offseason, please don't riot in the Pavillion here's some more free food, signing. Either way, with Dunn or Abreu they can sign Sheets AND Wolf to go along with the above mentioned lineup. Doesn't sound so bad to me.

I know they are just projections, but Shandler and all these stats guys do what they do for a living and are usually pretty close.

That's my 2 cents.

Eric Karros said...

Quad,

Throw in a pair of Dodger wristbands, a Jet Blue car air freshener, and a Furcal bobblehead, and I'll accept your offer.

Eric Karros said...

Of course value isn't measured only on HR's, but if Shandler's projections are close, I'll revise my offer to Manny down 2 years/$36 million.

That way Ned can just grab a certain previous contract and just search-and-replace the name.

QuadSevens said...

You drive a hard bargain EK, but I can make that happen.

QuadSevens said...

Last year the Dodgers ranked 22nd out of 30 MLB teams in HRs hit. The Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Padres all hit more HRs than we did. The Giants were at the bottom of the majors, so we beat them but that isn't saying much.

Both Ethier and Kemp have steadily improved their HR totals the past three years. Their projections are pretty reasonable. But they still don't qualify as a true power threat. Manny is definitely a power threat. And Manny can help both of these players, and any other youngsters around the clubhouse, to improve their games.

Hong Like a Chi Kuo said...

Last year saw the Dodgers playing Andruw Jones and Juan-for-Four semi-regularly for the first half of the year and Ethier still managed to hit 20 HR. Given a full-time gig last season with the September he had he could have easily hit 26-28. Same thing with Kemp, but to a lesser extent. Casey Blake is a solid 20 HR guy who the Dodgers only got 1/2 a season out of. I'll stand by those projections of the guys we already have and you add one of those 3 sluggers and you don't need to worry about power production. If Raffy stays healthy I don't think the Dodgers will struggle to score runs, it becomes an issue of pitching and defense, which is why I'd rather see some of that Manny money go to signing Sheets and Wolf.

Neeebs said...

Hard to argue with the Hung One.

Alex said...

Sax: I really enjoyed the rant.

I really am debating a 10 page rant on McCourt myself, but I don't have the patience. I did want to jump on one point you made, as the rest have covered most all other points.

The most glaring mistake this offseason for the blue crew was not signing an ace. That ace, the one that could really have led this franchise into the next decade, was Sabathia. CC was there, and Frank/Ned balked. Now heading into the season, our staff is at a minimum dominated by those of the Giants and D'backs, and for us to really compete, we are really locked into Manny. Adam Dunn and O-dog are not going to be enough.

Yes, I want to be as excited as I was last year, but Manny didn't get us to the promised land then, and with our team completely weakened by the losses on our staff, even with Manny on the club, we are still missing some critical pieces.

Orel said...

We never came close to Sabathia, and neither did anyone else. The Yankees blew everyone out of the water with their offer.

But you're right that the pitching staff is weaker, Alex. I hope HLCK is right about the bats, because we're going to need the offense.

Hong Like a Chi Kuo said...

I'm a hopeless optimist, I just hope that age/talent/luck are in those Louisville sluggers come April.