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February 4, 2009
On the Beat
Slow-Mo Wheeling Dealing
Manny Ramirez has spurned the Dodgers once again, this time turning down $7.5 million more than Bud Selig made last season. Ramirez rejected a one-year, $25 million offer on Monday night, just as he had rejected a two-year, $45 million proposal at the beginning of the offseason from the team he had sparked to the 2008 National League West title following his July 31 acquisition from the Red Sox.
The San Francisco Giants are the only other known suitor for Ramirez, and they're still waiting for his price tag to drop into bargain territory before making an offer. As always, agent Scott Boras claims that there are other teams willing to bid on his client, but those mystery clubs appear to be a private illusion.
With pitchers and catchers just nine days away from reporting, Ramirez is still expected to re-sign with the Dodgers once push comes to shove. After all, Ramirez became a folk hero in Los Angeles during last year's pennant race, as he put up a .404 EqA in 229 plate appearances while posting a team-leading 48.4 VORP. After threatening to sit out the rest of the season with the Red Sox because of a purported knee injury, Ramirez thrived upon his arrival in laid-back Southern California, and he was on such good behavior that Dodgers manager Joe Torre would never consider penning a book in which he'd dis on Manny for being Manny.
If the Giants or someone else do sign Ramirez, Torre will be left with a gaping hole in the middle of his batting order, and it would be a huge blow in an offseason that has been quite forgettable for the Dodgers, other than their convincing Andruw Jones to accept lots of deferred money to just go away. If Ramirez does not return, Juan Pierre would be recalled from the bench where he spent the last two months of the season, and returned to the starting lineup. Pierre had a .246 EqA and 1.7 VORP last year, a drop-off from Ramirez of 158 points of EqA and 46.7 VORP.
The Dodgers have re-signed third baseman Casey Blake and shortstop Rafael Furcal as free agents this winter, but they've made no other moves to bolster a lineup that finished 24th in the major leagues in '08 with an average of 4.3 runs scored per game. Without Ramirez, the Dodgers would be relying on getting improvements from a talented group of 26-and-unders that includes catcher Russell Martin (.283 EqA last season), first baseman James Loney (.270), second baseman Blake DeWitt (.262), center fielder Matt Kemp (.279), and right fielder Andre Ethier (.304).
During a recent interview with Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa seemed skittish about the idea of Ramirez leaving. "Without Manny in the lineup, I won't say we can't score runs, but we'll be like we were at the beginning of last year," said Bowa. "Manny is sort of that constant in that lineup. With the kids, you'd don't know what you're getting."
The Dodgers were 54-55 and averaging 4.1 runs per game before acquiring Ramirez, and went 30-23 and scored 4.7 runs per game after. Their core of younger players continually referred to Ramirez as a positive influence on them last year, and said that he took the pressure off of them both in the pennant race and during the postseason.
As much as Torre hopes to have Ramirez back, he is also confident that his offense will be better just through the improvement of his younger players. "Manny is going to go away eventually," Torre said. "These kids are going to have to go out on their own and be more consistent. Russell Martin, who I didn't see before last year, even though we all know his ability and that he plays a special position, he had some inconsistencies. He needs to get better for us to contend, and I expect he will. These young players, it's nice to have a security blanket for them, or a safety net, but eventually we all have to go out there on our own and be able to handle what we need to handle. But Manny certainly makes it-I think 'easier' is probably a bad word-but you sort of have more security when you know there's somebody else who can carry some of the load."
Because almost the entire focus of the Dodgers' offseason has been on Ramirez, few seem to have noticed that their starting pitching could be a shambles following the departure of free-agent right-hander Derek Lowe to the Braves. Lowe had a team-leading 6.9 SNLVAR last season, and though Clay Billingsley will step in as the de facto ace after posting 6.0 SNLVAR, he is just 24 years old, and he's recovering from a broken left leg he suffered in November after slipping on ice in front of his home in Reading, Pennsylvania.
The rest of the potential rotation does not inspire great confidence: Hiroki Kuroda was inconsistent in 2008 in his first season in the US after coming over from Japan as a free agent, Jason Schmidt missed all of '08 recovering from shoulder surgery which had limited him to 25
The closest thing that the Dodgers have to veteran insurance is left-hander Shawn Estes, who has pitched a grand total of 49
Many management types have renewed the cry for a salary cap this offseason following a free-agent spending spree by the Yankees that netted them left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett, and first baseman Mark Teixeira at a cost of $423.5 million.
Not surprisingly, Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Donald Fehr isn't too crazy about the idea. He feels that MLB's luxury tax has put a drag on spending, and that revenue sharing has redistributed the wealth well enough to give more teams a chance to win. That eight different franchises have won the first nine World Series of the millennium and 23 of the 30 clubs have made the postseason in the 2000s would seem to back Fehr's point. "We've worked very hard with Major League Baseball to develop a system that preserves entrepreneurial incentive and provides revenues to clubs, and we've done so in a fashion the players approve," Fehr told Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald. "I think the results we've seen over the last decade or so would suggest that [it's working]. A whole lot of teams seem to be able to compete extraordinarily well."
Selig seems to have no intention to push for a salary cap when the collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2011 season, a management strategy that in the past had led to the players' strike and cancellation of the postseason in 1994. "I'm proud of the system we have," Selig said. "I think we've had more competitive balance than we've ever had. I'll continue to watch what happens and make my judgments at the appropriate time."
Thanks to the big free-agent signings, the Yankees seem ready to make a bid for October in 2009 after missing the playoffs in '08 for the first time in 14 years. General manager Brian Cashman, however, warned an audience at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce's monthly breakfast on Tuesday in Cromwell, Connecticut, that nothing is guaranteed. "We've won the winter, but that doesn't mean you're going to win the summer when it counts," Cashman said. "When you win, it's because of [George Steinbrenner's] money. When you lose, it's your fault. The truth is somewhere in between."
Cashman told Don Amore of the Hartford Courant that the Yankees want to make the transition into pinstripes as easy as they can for Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira. "We have to take the heat off of them as much as possible, and make sure they understand how the team does will determine success or failure," Cashman said. "It's a new environment for them, the first year will be a transition period for them, some growing pains associated with it. The players who were already with the Yankees will have to step up and help them."
Cashman also said that manager Joe Girardi is not on the hot seat after the Yankees failed to make the playoffs in his first season on the job after replacing Torre. "He did a fantastic job managing the games," Cashman said. "One area that needs to get better is his relationship with the media. In another market, that's not even an issue. It didn't help that the guy he followed was so successful with that."
MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Dodgers and Giants both have free-agent fall-back strategies if they don't land Ramirez, with the Dodgers planning to pursue outfielder Adam Dunn, and the Giants considering making a bid for outfielder Bobby Abreu. ... The Phillies have interest in free agent Will Ohman as they look for a left-handed reliever to replace J.C. Romero, who will miss the first 50 games of the 2009 season serving a suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. ... The Rangers plan to move Josh Hamilton from center field to right to reduce the wear and tear on his body. They'll have Marlon Byrd and Nelson Cruz share playing time in center. ... The Rockies have abandoned the idea of moving third baseman Ian Stewart to second base.