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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Free-agency market for Manny Ramirez could be slim

Demand for a 38-year-old designated hitter doesn't appear high, so the slugger might have to settle for whatever he can get or perhaps walk away from baseball.

November 15, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

Of all the nouns used to label Manny Ramirez over the years, from the clubhouses to the bleachers, from the front offices to the talk shows, this noun is entirely new to the Ramirez Experience:

Manny Ramirez is an afterthought.

As baseball's general managers assemble Tuesday in Florida, with fans abuzz over whether the Angels can sign outfielder Carl Crawford to the richest contract in club history, and whether the Texas Rangers can keep Cliff Lee from endorsing the blank check dangled by the New York Yankees, there is not even the hint of a buzz around the 38-year-old Ramirez.

When Ramirez last hit free agency two years ago, Ned Colletti used the general managers meetings to announce a two-year, $45-million offer to the slugger with whom Los Angeles had fallen in love. Scott Boras, the agent for Ramirez, responded that he would look forward to entertaining "serious financial offers."

No other team extended Ramirez an offer, serious or otherwise, and he signed with the Dodgers essentially on their terms: two years, $45 million. No harm, no foul for Boras, who floated a six-year trial balloon to see if some team would bite, even at four years.

Boras will have plenty to say this week about Adrian Beltre, by far the best third baseman available in free agency. He will extol the skills of Rafael Soriano, the top closer available, and Jayson Werth, a big bat among outfielders.

Those guys will get their millions, many times over. It ought to be fascinating to see what Boras can get for Ramirez, for the possibility that the agent might tell Ramirez the guarantee would be one-tenth what it was last time, and for the possibility Ramirez would just say no and walk away from the game.

The last time, Boras pitched a six-year contract with the idea that Ramirez would pass Hank Aaron in runs batted in and Babe Ruth in home runs in 2014. This time, after a season in which Ramirez served three stints on the disabled list, Boras is pitching a one-year contract.

"It's just like Vlad Guerrero," Boras said. "His last Angels season, where he had an injury season and he had 50 RBIs, was not a customary Vlad Guerrero season. He went to Texas and reestablished himself.

"This is really the course for great veteran hitters. We've seen, following an injury season, a player goes out and performs at optimum levels, because these players are still uniquely skilled. They're still great hitters."

Guerrero had reestablished himself at the end of his last season with the Angels, when he batted .300 with 11 home runs after the All-Star break and .378 in the playoffs. Ramirez, claimed on waivers last August by the White Sox, batted .261 in 24 games in Chicago, with one home run and two runs batted in.

Ramirez last season posted a career-low .460 slugging percentage, just below Houston outfielder Hunter Pence and just above Atlanta infielder Martin Prado.

His career slugging percentage is .586, but he will turn 39 in May. The one player in major league history to slug higher than .586 in any season at 39 or older: Barry Bonds.

Ramirez has yet to recover the power he displayed before his 2009 suspension for violating baseball's drug policy, although he suffered a wrist injury shortly thereafter.

He also sat out nine weeks last season because of hamstring and calf injuries, then underwent surgery after the season for a sports hernia. Neither his age nor his injury history indicates a team should guarantee him millions.

"You look at his injuries, first of all," Boras said. "He had a sports hernia. That was correctable. He had a calf injury. That was related to playing in the outfield."

Ramirez suffered the injury while running the bases, but a job as designated hitter would reduce the stress on his legs.

"Really, the primary duty of what he is going to be doing from now on is DH-ing," Boras said. "Obviously, that can mitigate the probability of those things happening.

"This is professional sport. You have the ability to have a huge upside. Obviously, these players are not going to receive the contracts that they once received, nor the guarantees."

Boras, speaking in unusually plain language, suggested the mercurial Ramirez would not automatically dismiss an incentive-laden contract proposal.

"Players understand the system, the benefits and detriments of it," Boras said. "They also understand injury. There are times in your career where you play on the come. There are times in your career where you are guaranteed.

"Barry Bonds, at the very same age [actually, at 37], I got him a five-year contract for $90 million. It's not really about age. It's about what your level of performance is."

It is also about supply and demand, in a DH market crowded with Guerrero, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, even Andruw Jones.

Ramirez did not wow the White Sox. The Angels and Boston Red Sox do not need a DH. The Yankees say Jorge Posada will be theirs. The Oakland Athletics, a landing spot for Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi in recent years, say they are not interested in Ramirez.

If Guerrero returns to Texas, that could narrow the Ramirez market to the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays and perhaps Baltimore Orioles.

"There aren't many guys that can hold down the middle of the lineup," Boras said. "That's the issue.

"I think Manny Ramirez is a Hall of Fame hitter. Teams look at that ability and, if they adjudicate that ability is still intact, they're going to be seeking those extraordinary talents before they proceed elsewhere."

That's an if that even Boras would not guarantee.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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