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January 6, 2009

Prospectus Today

Manny Being Jody

by Joe Sheehan

Raul Ibanez for three years and a total of $30 million. Pat Burrell for two years and a total of $16 million. Milton Bradley for three years and a total of $30 million.

Manny Ramirez for three years and $63 million?

The cluster of corner outfielders in this year's free-agent market has likely cost each of the individual players millions of dollars. The incredible bargain picked up by the Rays-who get a five-win DH for a pittance-highlights the concept, and we'll likely see Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu sign similarly impressive deals for their new employers before the month is out. With that in mind, and while noting that only one player mentioned so far in this article is going to Cooperstown, is it now possible to say that Ramirez and Scott Boras overplayed their hand? Ramirez is the best of this pool of outfielders; he's also the oldest, the one carrying the most non-performance baggage, and the one with the stated demands furthest from what seems to be the market.


           Age   PA   AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA   WARP   +/-     UZR 
Abreu       35  684  .296  .371  .471  .291    5.2   -24   -25.9
Burrell     32  645  .250  .367  .507  .295    5.2   -20   -10.8
Bradley     31  509  .321  .436  .563  .339    7.0   + 3     1.2
Dunn        29  651  .236  .386  .513  .300    6.3   -23*  -20.0
Ibanez      37  707  .293  .358  .479  .295    7.4   -18   -12.6

Ramirez     37  654  .302  .430  .601  .344    9.8   -13    -4.8

*outfield only

(Thanks to Rick Lopez and Ben Lindbergh for their assistance in researching the data. +/- is courtesy of Bill James Online. UZR, courtesy of Fangraphs.)

I love Manny Ramirez as a player, and I'm on record making the argument that the off-field problems that predicated his trade from Boston may have been overstated. (At this point, six months and a lot of conversations later, I don't know if I still hold that position. It's not relevant here, regardless.) It's not clear, however, that he's worth twice as much or more per season than the other guys in this pool. More that the others? Sure, he's the best player out of this bunch, even granting the poor defense and the advanced age. He's also the most likely, save perhaps Dunn, to sustain his performance over the next three years. With all that, though, there's just no way he's worth twice as much per season as Bradley is. He's not worth three times what Burrell will make. You're not paying for his Hall of Fame past, remember; you're paying for his future.

Right now, the best contract for Ramirez is the one that he no longer has available to him: his one-year, $20 million option that was voided when he accepted a trade to the Dodgers. At the time, it seemed silly to suggest that Ramirez wouldn't do better than that. Now, looking at the contracts signed by his peers, it seems silly to suggest that he will. The signings of Burrell and Bradley have to affect how the Dodgers, the Giants, and other potential suitors regard the price on Ramirez's head. Of course, the buyers aren't entirely rational, and Ramirez has some markers that these other guys don't. He's fresh off of the two great months for the Dodgers and the perception that he carried them to the postseason. Still, the gap between where the market sits for corner outfielders who can hit but not field-$8 million to $10 million per season for a three-year deal-and the current set of rumors on Ramirez is too wide to be ignored. Abreu and Dunn are still available; there's no reason for a team to spend twice as much as it has to to get maybe an extra win or two. Even pricing Ramirez just off of last year's performance, which may overstate the gap between him and the rest of the field for 2009 and beyond, a reasonable estimate would be approximately $16 million per season on a three-year contract, plus an option on a fourth year.

Where does Ramirez fit? The Giants' interest is amusing, given that 16 months ago they parted ways with an all-bat, no-glove left fielder who was a better overall player than Ramirez on the grounds that they were trying to rebuild. I guess the Fred Lewis Era is over? It's not, snark aside, that bad of an idea. The Giants have a very good rotation, the makings of an effective bullpen, and they play against weak competition. The addition of one big bat, most likely to play left with Lewis moving to right and the team being saved from Nate Schierholtz, could turn them into co-favorites in the NL West. That's a combination of credit for the Randy Johnson signing, a lack of faith in Schierholtz, and an indictment of the division.

AL teams with holes at DH or even in left field should be coming in on Ramirez given where the price of relative talent lies. The White Sox list a bit to the right, but they were running DeWayne Wise out there in the postseason, so clearly there's some need for a major league left fielder, and Ramirez could move to DH when Jim Thome's contract expires after this season. The Indians' inability to get production from the corners hurt them last season, and only Shin-Soo Choo is clearly worthy of playing time. Ramirez would also insure against the continued failure of Travis Hafner. By the way, Hafner's four-year, $57 million extension is just kicking in now, and it's been nearly two years since his last stretch of productivity. He'll be 32 in June.

Because of Ramirez's advanced age and defensive issues, he's a better fit for an AL team that can slide him to DH in short order. An NL team that signs Ramirez will be taking a greater risk, because his glove work could deteriorate further and leave him eating up his bat's value with his lack of range in left. Still, a team with a short time-horizon and weak options in the outfield corners-in addition to the Dodgers and Giants, the Mets, Braves, and Reds come to mind-has to look at 3/48 or even 4/64 for Manny Ramirez and think about it.

What should be clear, is that with three comparables in and two outstanding, the chance for Ramirez to break the bank is gone. There's not going to be a nine-figure contract, and Ramirez's AAV will almost certainly drop from his last deal. He took a risk in pressing to ensure that he would be a free agent this winter, and despite his fantastic performance, that risk looks like it will be for naught because of the glut of players with similar skill sets available. It won't quite rise to the level of Jody Reed or Juan Gonzalez, but right now, it seems that Ramirez left money on the table by not taking the first offer-two years and $45 million-made back in November.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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