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These two are keepers

COMMENTARY

September 28, 2008|Ross Newhan | Special to The Times

It is indisputable: Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira helped drive the Dodgers and Angels into the playoffs, although the Angels were much farther along that road when Teixeira became another strong hand on the wheel.

It is also indisputable, at least in this semi-retired view, that the Dodgers and Angels have to re-sign both players no matter the bailout-type cost or what they do in the playoffs, no matter the inherent risk (particularly of Manny-mania reverting to a disdainful Manny being Manny) or the sticker shock when season-ticket holders open their renewal letters.

The timing and strategy will be complicated because both will be in high demand and Scott Boras, the attorney who represents both potential free agents, will play this to the dollar and sense hilt, possibly delaying a decision until Christmas.

Nevertheless, let's simplify it before getting into more depth:

A Dodgers offense without Ramirez will be as flat and floundering as it was before he arrived free of charge.

He enlivened the clubhouse, energized the young players as the team's incumbent veterans hadn't, switched leagues as if playing T-ball and -- according to multiple club sources not authorized to speak publicly -- has already made Frank and Jamie McCourt several million dollars more in added ticket, merchandise, food and parking sales.

The echoes of Boston and the accusation he quit on the Red Sox may always cloud his resume, but the long-denied Sox won two World Series with Ramirez and he annually enhanced Hall of Fame credentials that he is smart enough, at 36, to realize could be threatened if he resorted to disturbing behavior during a final five- or six-year contract.

With power essential in a DH league, the switch-hitting Teixeira's performance after his July 29 acquisition from Atlanta underscored his long-term value to a team that has to weigh the free-agent status of Garret Anderson at 36, the fragility of Vladimir Guerrero's knees and the offensive inconsistency of Gary Matthews Jr.

If the 28-year-old Teixeira -- a Gold Glove-caliber fielder as well -- is lost to what is expected to be widespread and expensive bidding, the Angels could be left with crossed fingers and the still-unproven Kendry Morales at first base in an infield shy of home run power at the other corner, providing Chone Figgins isn't traded.

"The market is essentially barren of sluggers, particularly franchise players like these two," Boras said of Teixeira and Ramirez. "They'll be highly coveted."

Boras didn't discuss specifics but said history documents that Teixeira will qualify for a contract similar to any "top-tier player in his 20s," and that "Manny is akin to where Barry Bonds was" at a comparable age, adding "an argument can be made that Manny continues to get better."

Boras represented Bonds in 2002 when he signed a five-year, $90-million contract with the San Francisco Giants. He is expected to seek at least five years for the younger Ramirez, who will be coming off an eight-year, $160-million contract, and could draw interest from several American League clubs who view the left fielder more as a DH.

There will be a battle royal for Teixeira between the New York Yankees and his hometown Baltimore Orioles, among others. He may not get the 10-year, $250-million deal that Boras got from the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez when he was 26, but six- to eight-year deals have become common for "top-tier" sluggers in their 20s, and he will step up from his $12 million this year to at least $18 million or more.

Boras doesn't believe in hometown discounts, but there is some hope among the Dodgers and Angels that he might not get quite what he wants elsewhere and will come back to the local teams for a little less. Ramirez has already compared Hollywood to heaven, and why not? He has not been forced to shed his dreadlocks, and the Dodgers have been drawing more celebrities than ever.

Make no mistake: The McCourts and Angels owner Arte Moreno are rolling in dough from consistent sellouts, increased sponsorships and merchandise sales, and whopping contributions from baseball's central fund. Each could elevate their $120-million payrolls, although they hope to keep them in that vicinity. Moreno knows what he wants and gets it, acting on one phone call to nail down Guerrero and then committing $140 million in consecutive winters to a pair of center fielders: Matthews and Torii Hunter. The question is: Do the McCourts realize what they got for free in Ramirez and are now willing to pay a market price to keep him?

"There was a lot of skepticism when the McCourts bought the Dodgers," said David Carter, chairman of the USC Sports Business Institute. "Were they committed to winning or were they going to parlay the Dodgers into other businesses?

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