Manuel says he'd welcome Manny

Updated: January 27, 2009, 7:44 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- With or without Manny Ramirez, manager Jerry Manuel thinks his New York Mets are good enough to win next season.

He'd love to put Ramirez in the middle of that lineup, though.

The free-agent slugger keeps coming up in conversation this winter as he waits and waits for an enticing offer. Mets executives have shown zero interest, but Manuel -- just like the team's anguished fan base -- has already thought about what Ramirez could do for a club coming off consecutive September collapses.

"It's rare that you get that type of talent. I mean, boom! Right in the middle of the lineup type of guy, and right-handed for us, that would be a big bonus," Manuel said Tuesday.

"Would you like to have that? Yeah. Would you like to add something else? Yeah. But hey, we have to deal with what we have, and what we have -- we feel like we have enough tools to make it into the playoffs."

A .314 career hitter with 527 home runs and 1,725 RBIs, Ramirez led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the NL Championship Series last season after arriving from Boston in a July 31 trade. He batted .396 with 17 homers, 53 RBIs and a whopping .743 slugging percentage in 53 games with Los Angeles.

Still, agent Scott Boras has yet to find a new home for Ramirez, who turns 37 in May. The enigmatic left fielder had a rocky relationship with the Red Sox and his final days in Boston were bitter, with some saying he quit on his teammates.

That might be one reason Mets general manager Omar Minaya has focused elsewhere. New York has spent the offseason in pursuit of pitching, and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said recently that Minaya and the team's baseball operations staff are not interested in Ramirez.

"I don't have problems with the clubhouse," said Manuel, who helped out City Harvest at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen on Tuesday. "If you bring in a guy like that who performs on the field, I think we can handle the rest of that stuff. It's easy to handle when you have that type of performance. I don't think that's an issue."

Boras told MLB.com that interest in Ramirez has perked up over the last week

"We are negotiating with several teams," Boras told MLB.com on Monday night. "The process has begun and we'll see where it takes us."

Boras said Ramirez remains in regular contact with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and that he was not panicking over the slow developments of this winter's free-agent market.

"Manny is good. He's a professional and he understands," Boras added.

New York appears content to go into the season with a left-field platoon of youngster Daniel Murphy and veteran Fernando Tatis.

The Mets are still trying to fill out the rotation, however, and they're interested in bringing back free agent Oliver Perez. Also a Boras client, the 27-year-old lefty could command a four-year contract after going 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA in 34 starts last season.

"I think I've always had some trepidation about Ollie early," Manuel said. "But as the season went on and [you] see him mature in the way that he did and to be ready to pitch at any time called upon, he would definitely be an asset to any team. Do I have confidence in Ollie? I feel very confident that he has taken steps to becoming a real good pitcher. He's still very young. So if he is added, it only strengthens us in that starting pitching, which would be a big plus for us, a very big plus."

Entering his first full season as Mets manager, Manuel isn't thrilled that so many of his key players are slated to play in the World Baseball Classic. Among those expected to leave the team in March are David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Francisco Rodriguez and Pedro Feliciano.

"My first spring training I would hope to have every player in camp and to have the ability to reach out and talk to them on a daily basis," Manuel said.

"But I do think that we can use this WBC to our advantage because they're playing at a level of competition a little different than spring training. It's almost like they've got to really gear up mentally for games, whereas spring training, it's almost a physical thing, not a mental thing. So here I think we can use the WBC to accent the mental part of getting prepared, which is what they're going to have to do."

Manuel also said he expects the 25-year-old Reyes to develop into a team leader this season.

"I think that's the next level for him, and to add responsibility to him. That to me is maturation," the manager said. "I think the more responsibility he has, obviously the more maturity he has, the better player he becomes."

And he thinks Reyes is ready for that.

"Oh, no question. Has to be," Manuel said. "Things like taking control defensively, as far as where guys are positioned, those types of things. ... Things that will be given to him. He's just been responsible for shortstop. I want to make him responsible for the infield, so to speak."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.