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Bill Plaschke

Dodgers are playing the Manny Ramirez game perfectly

The Dodgers have found the perfect balance on the tightrope toward signing Manny Ramirez.

January 08, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

We knew it would be a tightrope.

We had no idea it would stretch into January.

We knew the Dodgers had the money and the attitude.

We had no idea they had the stomach.

They do. It has served them well. The Dodgers have found the perfect balance in this perilous walk toward Manny Ramirez, weathering the hot stove's blasts, enduring the Boras spin, stepping through thick smoke screens to come within a few yards of a dreadlocked destination.

Now, if they can only keep their balance and finish it.

Finish it by signing Ramirez to the same two-year, $45-million deal they offered him two months ago -- just enough to keep him hungry, their fans happy, and the team contending.

Anything longer will turn Ramirez back into a dog. Anything richer will make the Dodgers look like fools.

Nobody will give him more. No other place will love him more. If he can get a better deal elsewhere, fine, but so far, he hasn't, and here's guessing he won't.

Two years, and the Dodgers can ensure he will keep trying, while Ramirez can be assured fans will keep cheering.

Two years, and everyone is happy but five-year-seeking Scott Boras, whose winter commission dollars will be reduced to a gazillion.

"We want Manny, and Manny knows it," said Ned Colletti, the Dodgers general manager. "We'll just keep talking and see if something can't be worked out."

It's amazing that a guy who left Dodger Stadium in another universe has suddenly landed back in their laps.

I have written that Ramirez did not deserve more than a two-year deal, but, goodness, I always thought he would get it from somebody.

I thought somebody would fall in love with the dramatics and forget the histrionics. I thought somebody would think only about how he energized the Dodgers, and forget how he abandoned the Red Sox.

Surely there was a sucker out there somewhere. For a while, I thought that sucker would be Colletti.

But the pleadings of fans and media to give Ramirez the keys to Chavez Ravine -- keys he would have lost on the way to showing up three days late for spring training -- the Dodgers held firm.

They made that two-year, $45-million offer. They rescinded it when Ramirez didn't respond. They haven't made another offer since.

And guess what? They have not been alone. It turns out, my idea that Ramirez was not worth a long-term deal was neither novel nor singular. The rest of baseball agreed. Nobody has made him a serious long-term offer. Nor, apparently, will they.

This is what happens when you refuse to play for the defending world champions, even for a day. This is the cost of being a malcontent, even for a moment.

Even when given a chance to benefit from the mother of all local bidding wars -- Dodgers versus Angels -- Ramirez has come up empty.

The Angels blew it on Mark Teixeira, desperately needed a big bat, and still wouldn't chase Ramirez probably because he wouldn't mesh with their buttoned-down manager, Mike Scioscia, and I don't blame them.

Joe Torre is the perfect boss for Ramirez. Los Angeles is the perfect town for Manny. He has told friends he wants to play here. More important, baseball has told him he has nowhere else to go.

A two-year deal filled with lots of money and lots of escape hatches, it's a match made in Manny.

"That's been our focus, Manny and the pitching staff," Colletti said.

Oh yeah, the pitching staff.

The Dodgers haven't shown as much fortitude there.

They gave up on Derek Lowe when they probably could have tried harder to convince him to stick around. They dumped Brad Penny even though they could have kept him relatively cheaply and later traded him. They couldn't sign C.C. Sabathia because, well, no pitcher is worth the money the New York Yankees threw at him.

Their rotation is left with the postseason-haunted Chad Billingsley, the befuddling Hiroki Kuroda, and kids Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald.

They need help. They need to go back to Lowe, who loves pitching for Torre, and figure out if they can make him happy. They need to check out the arm of Randy Wolf, who seems to pitch three great months every season, and see if he couldn't actually do it for six. They need to find 200 innings or be prepared to trade a prospect this spring for it.

Oh, and in any case, they need to complete the signing of Trevor Hoffman, though late Wednesday it appeared he might be set to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Yes, he's aging and erratic, but he still had 30 saves in 34 opportunities for a dreadful San Diego Padres team last year, he still pitched strong at the end of the season, and he still has the sort of work ethic that can help the Dodgers in more places than the mound.

Think Greg Maddux, but in the bullpen. Think of one of the best closers in history grooming Jonathan Broxton for the job.

Colletti has done decent work this winter, getting the last bid on Rafael Furcal, locking up Casey Blake, admitting to failure with Andruw Jones.

He is chasing Hoffman, and has the ammunition to add a starting pitcher, even if that doesn't happen until April.

The biggest question remains Ramirez, but the standoff is finally nearing an end.

His market has blinked. The Dodgers should not.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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