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McCourt is pitching Manny Ramirez tough

The Dodger owner says he won't consider Scott Boras' counteroffer of more money in exchange for the deferred payments that McCourt says the team needs to maintain financial flexibility.

March 02, 2009|Dylan Hernandez

PHOENIX — Because he said so.

That was more or less the reason Dodgers owner Frank McCourt gave Sunday morning for refusing to consider a proposal made to him by Manny Ramirez's agent, which differed from an offer the Ramirez camp made last week only in the timing of the payments.

McCourt said the latest phase of negotiations ended the moment agent Scott Boras made him a counterproposal instead of simply accepting or declining an offer the Dodgers made Wednesday of a two-year, $45-million contract with much of the money deferred without any added interest. By Thursday evening, Boras had made two counterproposals, the second one asking for two years at $45 million with an opt-out clause Ramirez could exercise at the end of the first year, only with no deferred salary.

McCourt on Sunday called that counteroffer "too little too late" and said negotiations would resume with "a fresh start." He said he stressed to the agent that he had wanted a resolution by Friday because he didn't want the negotiations to dominate conversation Sunday, the day the Dodgers opened the gates of their new spring training ballpark.

But why not consider the offer when the two sides appear to be so close?

"Because we're going to start from scratch," McCourt said.

But why start from scratch when you're so close?

"I answered it twice," McCourt said.

He looked away from the reporter who asked the question and didn't say another word until another question was asked by another reporter.

McCourt later apologized for ignoring the inquiry, saying that he wanted to field another question because a Dodgers spokesman had told him he could speak to the assembled media for only one more minute. He spoke for almost six more. The next question he took was from an MLB.com reporter who asked him about the joys of opening a new spring training ballpark and hosting the final rounds of World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium.

McCourt said negotiations would restart today at the earliest and intimated his next offer would be for less money. He said the offers he and General Manager Ned Colletti have made to Ramirez have remained in the same price range from the time they made their first pitch in November.

"And you know what? The world isn't anything like it was in November," McCourt said, referring to the downturn in the economy.

On Sunday afternoon, the Ramirez camp responded to McCourt's earlier comments by publicly revealing that it had made another counteroffer Saturday morning. Boras said this one bridged the gap between his most recent proposal Thursday and the offer the Dodgers had made Wednesday. The Saturday proposal was for another two-year, $45-million contract that included deferred payments with interest, Boras said.

The basic structure was the same as the proposals Boras and McCourt made last week, calling for a $25-million salary this year and a $20-million player option for 2010.

In an e-mail sent to reporters, Boras said the proposed contract had a "net present value" of $43.5 million. The Dodgers' last offer, according to Boras, had a net present value of $42 million. Boras' previous offer, which had no deferrals, had a net present value of $45 million. Boras said he met the Dodgers at the midpoint of their two offers at the direction of Ramirez. He also noted that the Dodgers hadn't responded to their last three offers.

Ramirez was quoted in the news release as saying: "I would not allow negotiations to take place without being involved and talk to Scott nearly every day. I have given Scott offers that he has given to the Dodgers and he has given me all offers from the team."

That comment's inclusion in the news release appeared to be a response to McCourt's implication that the Dodgers made their offers known to the public out of fear Boras might hide them from Ramirez.

"The purpose" of revealing their offers "is to let Manny know that we want him to be a Dodger," McCourt said.

Boras also downplayed the importance of whether payments were deferred.

"There is no issue with deferral money being part of the deal; just want to make sure the value is stated accurately and appropriately," read the statement, which was written in Boras' voice.

That wasn't what McCourt said.

"The agent encouraged us to include that," McCourt said of the deferred payments. "It was a way for him to get a higher number."

Boras' first counteroffer to McCourt's Wednesday proposal was for a two-year, $55-million deal and included substantial no-interest deferrals. McCourt went so far as to say he did Boras a favor by offering deferrals, which players and agents generally frown upon, especially in cases where no interest is added.

"We didn't have to agree to anything," McCourt said.

McCourt acknowledged that deferring parts of players' salaries was beneficial to the club because it provided financial flexibility, which, he said, "is a great thing to have in this economy."

McCourt challenged the notion that the importance he placed on deferred payments was an indication that he couldn't afford to pay Ramirez without them. He noted that he offered Ramirez arbitration, which probably would have resulted in the player's receiving a raise from the $20 million he made last year. That money would not have been deferred.

That the back-and-forth with Ramirez's camp overshadowed the first game at Camelback Ranch was something McCourt acknowledged bothered him.

"I would say it's fair to say that I'm a little frustrated," he said. "The reason why we wanted to have this wrapped up by Friday was because we wanted to celebrate the opening of Camelback Ranch and be talking about Manny as a Dodger, not coming out here and instead of talking about Camelback Ranch talking about the Manny Ramirez negotiation. What I said to Scott, what he said to me, what he said to Ned, what Ned said . . . it's a distraction."

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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