Two offers and two rejections later, the Dodgers still want to bring back Manny Ramirez. But they're not prepared to wait indefinitely.
"We still have interest in signing Manny," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told ESPN.com on Tuesday, in the wake of Ramirez giving a thumbs down to the one-year, $25 million offer the team made Monday.
"Right now we don't have a deadline," Colletti went on, "but that doesn't mean we're not going to have a deadline. These situations can change in an instant, and anybody can change them in an instant."
Later in the day, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt hinted that the club is unlikely to revisit a long-term offer to Ramirez.
"We came up with what we thought was a creative proposal to give him a lot of money, and well deserved in a challenging economy, and give him flexibility if he feels it's important to test free agency next year," McCourt told MLB.com. "I don't see long-term contracts happening in this market we're in."
So far, the Dodgers haven't done much more than maintain regular contact with the agents for outfielders Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu, who represent their Plan B attack if they can't re-sign Ramirez. But as the clock ticks and spring training draws closer, they may need to rethink that strategy.
They clearly intended their one-year offer to be a signal to Ramirez that they want him back, and they're prepared to make him the second-highest paid player in baseball this year, behind only Alex Rodriguez.
But in rejecting that offer, Ramirez and agent Scott Boras sent signals of their own -- that they're still looking for four to five years, at $25 million a year, and they believe they have other teams willing to pay that.
"We'd love to sign Manny," McCourt told MLB.com. "But we have to be prudent with our decisions. This is about winning now, but also in the future."
Ramirez is so disappointed in the way the market has behaved this winter that he is seriously considering stopping any negotiations until May and waiting until someone really interested contacts him at that time, two sources close to Ramirez told ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas on Tuesday.
Boras and the Dodgers have haggled since November over Ramirez's worth, but have been hung up mostly because they disagree on the length of the contract. So far, no team has shown any public willingness to sign Ramirez to a deal that rich that would take him through age 40. And no other team would seem to have $25 million or more sitting around in its checking account even for one year.
"The agent is challenging to work with and we've tried hard," McCourt told MLB.com. "We've made three efforts and we still have not received a specific number from the agent, and I don't know what to tell you. At some point, you have to move on and start to get ready to win a championship."
Judged only by the average annual value of the contract, the one-year deal the Dodgers offered would have made Ramirez the highest-paid outfielder in baseball history, and also would have been a step up from the Dodgers' previous offer.
On Election Day, the club offered Ramirez $15 million for the 2009 season, $22.5 million in 2010 and a $7.5 million buyout or $22.5 million club option for 2011. So that contract would have maxed out at $60 million over three years if the Dodgers picked up the option.
However, Boras and Ramirez didn't respond to that offer, later rejected the Dodgers' offer of arbitration and now have turned down a one-year deal. So even though there have been no indications that Ramirez has any other serious bidders, the rejection of this latest offer suggests that his quest for that four- or five-year contract hasn't changed.
"This is what I would call a 'deliberate market," Boras told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "There's players ending up with market contracts."
Nevertheless, the only other club that has publicly admitted interest in Ramirez -- the San Francisco Giants -- also prefers a one-year deal. And given that the Giants' payroll is already in the neighborhood of $90 million, the highest in the history of the franchise, it's difficult to imagine they would be willing to offer Ramirez more than $25 million.
Los Angeles manager Joe Torre and some of the Dodgers players have said they want Ramirez back.
The latest rejection "doesn't mean he's not coming back. They're still talking and that's what negotiations are all about," Torre said at a signing for his new book in New York.
"I've talked to him a couple of times. He enjoyed his experience. He'd like to come back, but again, this is the business part of it. Hopefully things can get worked out."
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and New York Mets have all indicated in recent days that they're not interested. So where Ramirez -- and the Dodgers -- go from here is as unclear as ever.
"I do hear the rumblings. People expect us to get in on Manny. But that's not going to happen," New York general manager Brian Cashman told AP on Tuesday. "We're tapped."
"I hope he stays in the National League," the GM added. "Let him stay out on the West Coast."
Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.