October 30, 2003

Manny on the move?

In yesterday's entry, I looked at this off-season's "six-year minor league free agents," the guys who are basically available for free to any team interested. I called them "the real free agents" and talked about how there are valuable players to be had, but stressed that none of them were ever going to become superstars. Of course, that wasn't exactly shocking, because I think we all know you don't just get superstar players for absolutely nothing in return.

Or at least I thought we knew that.

As I'm sure most of you have heard already, the Boston Red Sox placed Manny Ramirez on "irrevocable waivers" earlier this week. What that means is that any team that wants Manny Ramirez (and his remaining contract) can simply put in a claim for him. If even one team makes a claim, the Red Sox lose Ramirez.

There are so many potential things to talk about with this story that I think I will just try to stick to the basics. I believe the Boston Red Sox are doing this in the hopes that some team, whether it is the Yankees or another team, will claim Ramirez and take his remaining contract, which breaks down like this:

2004 - $20.5 million

2005 - $20.0

2006 - $19.0

2007 - $18.0

2008 - $20.0

That is a lot of money and, although Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in all of baseball and has been for many years, that contract, in the present market, is bloated.

Just for comparison's sake, last year's top free agent slugger, Jim Thome, got "only" $85 million over six years from the Phillies. Now, Thome was three years older than Ramirez was when he signed his deal with Boston, so it's not exactly a perfect comparison. Still, Thome's contract was for only six seasons, while Ramirez's was for eight, and Thome's deal is worth about $6 million less per season.

I seriously doubt Boston would do something this bold and this unexpected without being extremely confident in a "backup plan." The most obvious plan would be to dump Ramirez and his $20 million a year deal on someone and then sign Vladimir Guerrero as a free agent, for somewhere around $15-17 million per season.

If the Red Sox made that switch, they would save several million per year and they would get a younger, similarly talented offensive player who is a vastly superior defender.

Of course, if you aren't about 95% sure you can land Guerrero and land him for less than Ramirez, it's a pretty risky move. Because of that, I would bet that Boston has a "Plan B" and probably plans C through F too. Gary Sheffield is another free agent slugger who could step into Ramirez's vacated corner outfield spot and provide similar offensive production (and better defense) at a lower price, and there are plenty of interesting second-tier free agent outfielders to choose from, including guys like Shannon Stewart, Mike Cameron and Juan Gonzalez.

Or, maybe the Red Sox have a trade on the table. Who knows, maybe they shed Manny's contract and then take Alex Rodriguez's mega-deal off Texas' hands? Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but so did the idea of Manny Ramirez being available to anyone who put in a waiver claim.

I'll take Alex Rodriguez at $25 million a year until 2010 over Manny Ramirez at $20 million a year until 2008 any day of the week.

Honestly, at this point, nothing would surprise me. Letting Ramirez go for nothing, signing Vlad Guerrero, taking ARod off Texas' hands, signing Sheffield...who knows?

In all honestly, the most likely scenario is probably that absolutely nothing happens. No one is willing to take Ramirez and his contract, the 48-hour waiver period passes, and Manny goes back to being Boston's left fielder. Of course, I'm pretty sure that would upset Manny just a little bit, which isn't usually what teams want to do with their superstar players.

As soon as Manny went on waivers, everyone's immediate reaction was that the Yankees were the team most likely to claim him. It seemed sort of like Theo Epstein and company daring George Steinbrenner and the Yankees to take him. Surprisingly, the Yankees have said they are not interested.

Of course, the "source" ESPN.com has on that is "a baseball executive who has had contact with a high-ranking member of the team's front office." In other words, their source heard it from a source. I'll believe the Yankees aren't interested in acquiring one of the top five hitters in all of baseball as soon as that 48-hour waiver period expires, and not a second before.

The larger question is whether or not Ramirez is worth $20 million to any team, Yankees or otherwise. Is there a team out there that would be making a smart move by claiming Ramirez? I believe the answer to that question is yes, although I can't say for sure which team(s) that would be.

I do think $20 million a season until 2008 is too much to pay Manny Ramirez. On the other hand, he is one of baseball's best hitters and certainly he is worth at least $15 million a season in today's market. Is the difference between paying someone $15 million a season and $20 million a season really that huge, particularly for one of the teams with a giant payroll?

Well, the Red Sox apparently think so. The only problem with the idea of cutting Ramirez and his $20 million to pick up Guerrero and his $15-17 million is that only one team is going to end up with Vladimir Guerrero. And, if that fails, only one team is going to end up with Gary Sheffield.

So, there is at least one team out there with a ton of money to spend that is going to end up without Guerrero and without Sheffield. That as-yet-undetermined team is the one that should put a claim in for Ramirez. If you can't get Vlad Guerrero for $15-17 mill a year and you can't get Sheffield for $12-14 million a year, the next best thing is Manny Ramirez at $20 mill a year.

Whether that team is the Yankees or the Orioles or the Mets or the Dodgers or some other team, I have no idea. I am a big believer in not giving slightly above-average players big free agent contracts, but I am also a big believer in paying top-dollar to the truly elite players in baseball, and Manny Ramirez is certainly one of those elite players.

Just take a look at this...

Manny Ramirez's career numbers, pro-rated to 155 games played:

  G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG     HR     2B     RBI     RUN     BB

155 562 .317 .413 .598 39 38 129 108 90

Those are just awesome numbers.

There isn't a General Manager in Major League Baseball who shouldn't have at least thought "hmmm...what if..." as soon as he heard about Ramirez's sudden availability. The guy has consistently been one of baseball's best hitters throughout his entire career and, although he may not play great defense or be a speed-demon on the bases, he is almost a lock to hit .300+ with 35+ homers and 100+ RBIs each and every year.

In 10 full-seasons in the majors, Ramirez's lowest slugging percentage is .521, and that was in his rookie year. That rookie year is also the only season in which he has hit below .290 and the only year he has had an on-base percentage below .375. Quite simply, he is an offensive machine.

This story fascinates me, not only because of the possibility that Ramirez could be switching teams very soon, but also because of the possibility that the Boston Red Sox have a plan in place for if/when Ramirez switches teams. As a GM-wannabe, I would pay to see that plan.

A couple of notes for next week...

Today is the final day of October (Happy Halloween!), which means by this time next week we will be right in the middle of the free agent frenzy that goes on every off-season. This year's list of available free agents contains a ton of impressive names and a whole bunch of potential bargains.

I'll spend a couple days next week breaking down all of the free agents, covering pitchers one day and position-players the next. I always enjoy playing General Manager for a Day, so it should be fun.

Also next week, I am planning on doing a "Mailbag" entry devoted entirely to the responses I have received in regard to the two Derek Jeter-related entries from earlier this week. If you haven't already read those two entries, click on the following links...

"Derek is really, really cute"

"Derek is really, really cute" (Part Two)

So, for those of you who have sent me emails about Jeter (and there are a ton of you) and have not heard back from me, it is not because I am ignoring you, it is because I am saving all the emails and my responses to them for sometime next week.

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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