Thursday, October 30, 2003
Updated: October 31, 9:50 AM ET
Yankees to pass on Ramirez
By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
The New York Yankees have no interest in placing a waiver claim on Boston Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, according to a baseball executive who has had contact with a high-ranking member of the team's front office Thursday.
The Red Sox placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers this week, meaning that any team willing to take on the remaining five years and $100 million on Ramirez's contract could have him so long as they placed a claim by Friday. If two or more teams were to place claims, the team that finished lower in the standings would be awarded Ramirez.
But Ramirez's annual salary of $20 million -- which did not seem far out of line three years ago, at a time when the Rangers' Alex Rodriguez received a 10-year, $252 million deal -- is extraordinarily high, by current standards. Even for the Yankees, apparently. "There is no chance" the Yankees will put a claim on Ramirez, according to the executive.
The Yankees are aware, according to the executive, that if they claimed Ramirez, the Yankees could essentially create circumstances that would lead to the departure of pitcher Andy Pettitte, who is eligible for free agency this offseason. If the Yankees relieved Boston of Ramirez and the accompanying financial burden, the Red Sox could then turn around and make a deal with the Houston Astros -- perhaps for expensive reliever Billy Wagner -- and free up payroll for the Astros to sign Pettitte, whose preference may be to return to his home in Texas.
Pettitte is the Yankees' priority this offseason, and if Pettitte decides to sign outside of Texas, he could cost the Yankees heavily, adding to a long list of financial commitments. Shortstop Derek Jeter signed a $189 million deal before the 2001 season. First baseman Jason Giambi signed a seven-year, $120 million deal before the 2002 season. Catcher Jorge Posada, center fielder Bernie Williams, pitcher Mike Mussina are locked into long-term deals -- to say nothing of pitchers Jeff Weaver, Steve Karsay, Chris Hammond and Jose Contreras.
Adding Ramirez also would throw another designated hitter candidate onto the roster loaded with aging sluggers. There is some question about how much longer Williams and Giambi could play in the field, because of their deteriorating physical conditions.
One executive said Thursday he would be shocked if any team placed a claim for Ramirez, in an offseason when the free agents rolls will already contain Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield -- players who figure to get less than $20 million annually, if the market trend continues. Many big-market teams have cut payroll the last two years, and while the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles will probably be among the very few teams to invest heavily in big-name players this offseason, they could be interested in better financial values than Ramirez.
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Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.