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WILL HE WALK? Ramirez is in line for a huge contract

The Dodgers have to decide whether Manny Ramirez is worth in excess of $20 million a year.

October 17, 2008|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

In the hour after the Dodgers' exciting season had come to a sad conclusion, Frank McCourt worked the clubhouse, shaking hands with the players and thanking them for their efforts. The Dodgers' owner then held court with the media, and all the questions revolved around one player.

Are you going to bring back Manny Ramirez?

"It takes two to tango," McCourt said. "Of course we want him back."

And so began what could be the most fascinating winter dance in Dodgers history, a tango between a player who captured the imagination of Los Angeles as he carried the team to its best season in 20 years and an owner who has struggled to persuade fans that a World Series championship is his first priority.

Ramirez offered no encouragement to the fans, many of whom wore T-shirts and jerseys with his name and a dreadlock wig to imitate his signature hairstyle as they chanted "Stay Manny Stay!"

Said Ramirez: "I want to see who is the highest bidder."

That bidding could approach, or exceed, $100 million. If the Dodgers do not win the bidding, or drop out at what might well be a justifiable point, it is not the player with the openly mercenary attitude who would be left in Los Angeles to dodge the criticism.

It would be McCourt, and the Dodgers.

"They're in a tough spot," said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "That could be a prudent decision based on what's going on in the marketplace, and yet they'll still get skewered for allowing him to leave.

"I don't see any middle ground. If they let him go, it will reinforce the perception they're not committed to winning. If they sign him, it will materially move the needle in their favor, and the fans will rally around him."

Ramirez arrived as a gift, literally, a superstar who had so worn out his welcome in Boston that the Red Sox paid the $7 million remaining on his contract so the Dodgers would take him off their hands.

He powered the Dodgers into the playoffs, during which McCourt shared the owner's box with such luminaries as Tiger Woods and Barbra Streisand.

Ramirez energized his teammates and the fans, triggering an attendance and merchandising surge that generated $10 million to $15 million in gross revenue for the Dodgers, according to sources in the organization who were not authorized to discuss club finances.

He drove in one run for every game he played.

Ramirez is the first big-time power hitter McCourt has employed in his five years of ownership.

"Based on who he is, what this organization needs and what the fans need, I just sense he'll be back," former Dodgers great Steve Garvey said.

"Power brings out the fans. Power changes the game. Power creates excitement. You have to have that power. We haven't seen that kind of power for a while, which is why we've seen an erosion on the baseball side of the organization."

In the Dodgers' five-game loss in the National League Championship Series, Ramirez hit .533 and drove in seven runs, despite drawing seven walks.

"Normally, when you have a superstar, he has a great season and then he gets pitched around in the postseason," said Scott Boras, the agent for Ramirez. "To perform the way he has in the postseason, which he has done with consistency, puts an extraordinary value on him."

Ramirez, 36, has suggested that he might seek a contract of five or six years, and isn't interested in a pay cut from his current $20 million a year.

Boras would not reveal an asking price, but he cited as examples the contracts that Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez signed to play through age 42.

Bonds received an average annual salary of $18 million, through 2006, although steroid allegations cloud the accomplishments of the seven-time most valuable player.

Rodriguez signed last year for an average annual salary of $27.5 million, but he does not turn 42 until the contract expires in 2017.

Fred Claire, general manager of the Dodgers' last World Series championship team, said McCourt should be inoculated against any allegations of lack of commitment since he approved the second-highest player payroll in the National League this season.

Claire said the Dodgers should offer Ramirez $20 million per year for three years.

"You can't be guided by the asking price," Claire said. "The view of the fans is extremely important. There will be a lot of noise in the media. But the Dodgers have to make the decision that is in their best interest."

Boras discounted the notion that the economic crisis could depress the bids for Ramirez, from the Dodgers and other teams.

"Baseball has had record revenues in 2008," Boras said. "Fans have already paid those record revenues to owners. They expect them to invest in their teams."

Carter, however, said the economy could reduce how much owners might be willing to guarantee for, say, 2012.

The Dodgers have cited the slumping economy in freezing prices on season tickets, and Carter said every owner probably will consider the prospect of fans and corporations cutting back on seats, suites and sponsorships.

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