Now, let's get this straight. Manny Ramirez didn't want to leave Cleveland to take his $160 million from the Red Sox, but the negotiations weren't about what Ramirez wanted, it was about Jeff Moorad being able to say he got $20 million a year (even if the union figures it at $17.5 million).
Now Ramirez wants to leave the Red Sox and play for the Yankees. He was offered a chance to opt out of his current contract, but we're told the union wouldn't allow him to do that -- the "union" that lectures us about rights of the sweat shop inmates who play baseball, unless those rights have to do with trying to trade happiness for dollars, a right forbidden by the MLBPA.
Then, incredibly, Moorad told any newspaperman or talk show host who'll listen how Manny is happy in Boston, he just prefers playing for the Yankees. Unbleepingbelievable. Oh, great. And Manny is going to be upset when he gets booed the first time he doesn't run at full speed on a ground ball to short?
And they will continue to "do anything" to get him to the Yankees, short of redoing the contract, which, translated, means they'd rather stick it to Boston for an idiotic John Harrington/Dan Duquette lapse of responsibility than have Manny happy, because it's only about taking the money. Not a bad gig, not when that money does not require reporting to work or pinch-hitting when asked in a pennant race.
What the Red Sox pulled has been widely applauded across baseball. "First of all," says an American League general manager, "it sends a message to Manny to shut up and stop talking about a trade because no one wants him at that price. For anyone associated with Manny to say 'the Red Sox should eat some of the money' is a joke. He wants out, the agent wants out, they should eat the money. But, beyond that, isn't this a reminder that the player and the agent bear some responsibility for accepting $160 million? The evidence right now is that they bear absolutely no responsibility."
However, there is a clear change in management's tenor. Rather than forever fretting about whether or not Manny is "happy," they are reversing the burden, and when he doesn't show up for work, he'll lose his $100,000 a day like any other worker, then let the union double standard anything they want to double standard.
Royals GM Allard Baird has long said that three ingredients should be necessary for a big long-term contract: "Durability, ability and character." Too many teams ignore durability and character.
The second message is that the 2003-2004 market is far, far different from the 2000-2001 market in which Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Mussina, Derek Jeter and others got their contracts. "If Manny Ramirez went on the market today, he'd be the best hitter available," says another AL GM. "But he'd be lucky to get four years, much more than $50 million. Half what he has coming. This is a message that should resonate across the game."
Some agents have it figured out. Tom Reich, Adam Katz and Craig Landis are among the wisest in the industry, and they know that had they urged Sammy Sosa to opt out of his final two years and $37.5 million with the Cubs, it would have been tantamount to malpractice. Now, Ramirez may be a better pure hitter than Sosa, but compare every other part of their games. Then think about fannies in the seats.
The quick signings of Greg Myers and Frank Catalanotto -- both coming off big years with the Blue Jays -- were two more recognitions of the market.
Pitchers may be a different story, because as we've seen most Octobers, pitching wins. So no one can measure how much a Bartolo Colon, Andy Pettitte, Greg Maddux or Kevin Millwood will make on the market.
The third message the Red Sox sent was to their gaggle of 2004-2005 free agents, which is another gift left this administration by a previous ownership that treated contracts the way Britney treats her MasterCard. Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez and Bill Mueller are all free agents at the end of next season. While they hope to get Varitek, Lowe and Garciaparra signed early, they don't know if it's possible. Varitek and Lowe are both represented by Scott Boras, who prefers going into the market, and as one Boston official says, "the only recent case where a player signed early was Andruw Jones, because his father intervened." Theo Epstein wants to talk to Garciaparra about what he'd like to do.
The problem is that the Red Sox right now are projected, with their big arbitration cases like Ortiz, Trot Nixon, Byung-Hyun Kim and Scott Williamson, to be close to their $110 million limit. At most, ownership is giving Epstein $10 million to play with, which means the Red Sox must be spectators with the Colons and the big boys unless they get creative.
The timing of the Ramirez waiver ploy was obvious. At the time, George Steinbrenner was on vibrate, and Moorad was pushing all the 1918 buttons by talking up Manny's love for the Yankees. Had Steinbrenner fallen, there were a number of options: They could have packaged Williamson and kids to Houston to take the Billy Wagner and Richard Hidalgo contracts off the Astros' hands to enable them to sign Pettitte, a double-blow to the Yanks that Brian Cashman and company saw coming; they might have been able to take Matt Mantei and Junior Spivey to help take Curt Schilling; they could have offered cash, Ortiz and young pitchers to Montreal for Javier Vazquez.
Rangers and Red Sox ownerships discussed the general possibility of Alex Rodriguez going to Boston. Texas had no interest whatsoever in Ramirez, and the Red Sox cannot take A-Rod without unloading Manny. "We can't have 40 percent of our payroll tied up in two players, almost 60 percent including Pedro."
So, while the Red Sox may not have enough flexibility this winter, they may have too much a year from now.
Manny Ramirez is hardly the only player, who if placed on irrevocable waivers, would clear. Here's a list of 20 additional players who also would go unclaimed:
Jason Giambi. Five more years, $86 million, concerns about his knee's future. Yours for the asking. Jeff Weaver would get claimed by the White Sox, Padres, Orioles... someone, because he can still pitch, albeit out of New York, the $15.5 million for two years isn't death, and if they get one great year at $6.5 million, his $9.5 million 2005 deal is tradeable.
Chan Ho Park. $42.3 million for the next three years. In a year that Tom Hicks wants to get below $80 million, this is the guy -- not A-Rod -- who kills the Rangers. A-Rod is a great player who accepts the responsibility of greatness and plays hard every day. If A-Rod were placed on irrevocable waivers, he might well get taken. If I'm the Orioles, in Ripken Country?
Jason Kendall. $41.3 million for five years. Very good player. Great attitude. Bad contract. Not his fault.
Shawn Green. $32 million the next two years. Shoulder injury renders him damaged goods.
Jason Isringhausen. $16 million, two years.
The Red Sox have lined up interviews with Angels pitching coach Bud Black and Dodgers coach Glenn Hoffman -- the early front-runners -- for the first of the week, and are working on getting A's coach Terry Francona and Angels bench coach Joe Maddon in later in the week. Whether or not Black will move to the East Coast is a major question. ... Francona appears in good shape in the Orioles process, whose final list could include Rich Dauer and Grady Little. Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan conducted four-hour interviews, then made each of the eight candidates available to the media, and the interaction was taped. Hey, the media is a big part of the job. ... Typical of Little, he treated questions about his departure from the Red Sox with elegance and class, and said he expects that he and Epstein "will always be friends. If he wants me to work for him five years from now, I'd jump at the opportunity." ... One of Little's former bosses says, "if he doesn't get the Orioles job, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go be Bobby Cox's bench coach and successor. Those players on the Braves like Chipper Jones loved him, and he's got the class for the Braves."
The Orioles will have cash to spend, but they are looking for two position players and two pitchers, but will not do Ramirez. They, like the Angels, Dodgers and Red Sox (if Nomar Garciaparra prefers a trade), are interested in Kaz Matsui and Miguel Tejada. ... New Dodger owner Frank McCourt will soon see if MLB and the Fox Corp. will allow him to start making making organizational changes on the baseball and business sides. A lot of people have tried to speculate as to what this purchase means -- it's not a real estate play, it's nothing but a pure and simple purchase of one of the three best franchises in the sport. ...
If Omar Minaya were to get the Seattle GM job, or had he ended up in Cincinnati, Dan Duquette's friends insist Bud Selig would have had him move back to Montreal and run that franchise. ... There has been speculation for a year that the Astros may have to move the Billy Wagner contract, especially to sign Pettitte, and now that the Boston thing has fallen through, several GMs think Wagner could end up in Philadelphia. ...
The Royals consider Carlos Beltran to be one step below Barry Bonds. They know they cannot sign him long-term. But Boras is not going to do a trade-and-sign, so the chances of Kansas City making any deal seem to be slight. ... Scouts in the Arizona Fall Legaue say the pitching is way down. One club contests that where last year there were a half-dozen pitchers ready to step into the majors next season, this fall the only major league-ready starter is Tampa's Dewon Brazelton. ... Contrary to speculation, Billy Beane has and will not give Boston permission to talk to Ken Macha about its vacant managerial job. "They haven't asked, but the answer would be a resounding no," says Beane. "I am very happy with Ken. Absolutely." Beane has two other potential managers on his staff, Ron Washington and Bob Geren. If Frank Robinson were not to return in Montreal, Washington would be a prime candidate. ...
Luis Castillo broke one World Series record -- he had more agents, five, than hits, four. ... The Padres are hoping to re-sign both Trevor Hoffman and Rod Beck, then turn their money to two starters (preferably lefty, maybe Chuck Finley and David Wells) and two relievers. But Colorado is eyeing Beck as well, testament to a huge heart and a great comeback. ... Several baseball players from Brad Penny to Adam Dunn to Vernon Wells to Junior Griffey, have hooked up with Miami nutritionist Sari Mellman, who has done such remarkable work with dozens of NFL players, as well as Jack Nicklaus. The Mark Verstagens of the world have changed conditioning, now nutrition is the next frontier for great athletes.