“It’s just Manny being Manny.”
Which MLB team will get to utter that phrase in 2009?
Both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants hope they will be the team making excuses for slugger Manny Ramirez and his immature behavior all next season.
Manny came to the Dodgers in the middle of 2008 campaign and completely decimated National League pitching for two and half months.
Now Manny is a free agent and several National League teams would love to have his pop in their lineup. The Dodgers, the Giants and the Mets are all rumored to be in the running, but for the sake of this article, will stick with the two teams from the N.L West.
The Dodgers have confirmed making an offer and the Giants have confirmed interest. Insiders believe the Dodgers will offer a guaranteed third year, while the Giants are reluctant to make such an offer to a player who turns 37 in May.
Manny wants a four-or five-year deal worth between $25 and $30 million annually.
Even with spring training just weeks away, and no deal in sight, Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras seem cool and calm.
“We are negotiating with several teams,” Boras said recently. “The process has begun and we’ll see where it takes us. Manny is good. He’s a professional and he understands.”
Which of these National League rivals need Manny the most?
The Giants finished 2008 with a 72-90 record. It was their fourth consecutive losing season.
However, the Giants are young. They played 24 rookies last season.
“Not only were they entertaining, but most days we had a chance to win, which showed people some progress and hope,” General manager Brian Sabean says. “We’re much farther ahead in introducing young kids and getting a barometer for what they can do than we thought we’d be.”
The Giants will now try the always difficult balance act of nurturing players that can help them win in the future with veterans that can help them win now.
“As we go into next year,” says Bobby Evans, director of player personnel for the Gianst, “one of the things we need to balance is how to improve ourselves without taking away too much from some of that young talent that’s percolating and ready to show what they have.”
Manny would obviously NOT be a young talent, but a veteran that can help the Giants win right away.
The Giants will also be juggling one of the league’s best pitching staffs with a lackluster batting order.
Again, Manny wouldn’t definitely help the Giants immediately, this time improving the team’s most glaring weakness.
The ace of the Giants pitching staff is Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. In the off season, Sabean signed Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.
Johnson is chasing his 300th win and the Giants would love nothing more than hosting the Big Unit’s big milestone. He will probably be the last pitcher to reach the 300 hundredth win mark.
Barry Zito, once an ace in his own right, will push Johnson for the second starting spot. Hard throwing right-hander Matt Cain and lefty Jonathan Sanchez will round out the Giants formidable starting rotation.
In the bullpen, the Giants added left hander Jeremy Affeldt. He’ll join Sergio Romo as set-up men for closer Brian Wilson. Veteran right hander Bob Howry adds depth and youngsters Sergio Romo and Alex Hinshaw are expected to be even more impressive than they were in 2008.
Offensively, the Giants signed Edgar Renteria to a two year, nearly $19 million contract. Some around the league scoffed at giving a 32 year-old shortstop such a lucrative contract, but he’s definitely an upgrade from the platoon of shortstops the Giants had in 2008.
With Renteria at short and young stud Pablo Sandoval at third base, the Giants are vulnerable to balls hit deep into the hole. Sandoval is a catcher/first baseman, but has proved good at the hot corner, just not great. The Giants may need to find another position for Sandoval to play.
Regardless, he will be in the lineup, in 2008 Sandoval had a .345 average and 24 RBI in 145 at-bats.
Current back stop Bengie Molina led San Francisco in RBI in 2008 for the second season in a row. Molina is also great with the staff, a leader in the clubhouse and a clutch hitter. He is, however, in the last year of his contract.
The rest of lineup is uninspiring.
To add some pop and another good glove, the Giants might look to add someone like Joe Crede. If the Giants are really desperate for pop, they could add strike out machine Adam Dunn.
Even if the young talent continues to improve, the Giants could still use Manny’s bat. Plugging him into this lineup could make the 2009 Giants a division winner. After all, the N.L. West is still pretty weak.
While the Giants are trying to balance youth with experience, the Dodgers are trying to get younger and cheaper.
Manny contradicts this aim, but you make concessions for someone who can swing the bat like he can.
With or without Manny, the Dodgers payroll will be slashed from its 2008 figure of $120 million. Will a several expensive free agents coming off the books in 2009—Derek Lowe, Jeff Kent, Brad Penny and Nomar Garciaparra—the Dodgers will probably have a payroll around $100 million ($80 million if Manny bolts).
While Manny is first on the to-do list, he’s not the only priority for the Dodgers.
“We need to continue to upgrade our pitching,” says Dodgers’ general manager Ned Colletti, “That’s our priority right now besides Manny.”
Starters Lowe and Penny are gone from the rotation and closer Takashi Saito and setup man Chan Ho Park are no longer coming out of the bullpen.
To make up for the losses, Dodgers have added reliever Guillermo Mota and will promote the inexperience Jonathan Broxton to closer.
Right now the Dodgers have two great arms in Chad Billingsley and left-hander Clayton Kershaw. But, Billingsley broke his leg in November. While he’s throwing off a mound, recovering from an injury like that is still a concern.
Starting hurler Jason Schmidt is recovering from a second operation to repair his damaged shoulder. Even though he’s only pitched six games in the last two seasons, Schmidt is expected to be ready for spring training.
Colletti is hoping to land another starter and another reliever. Randy Wolf, Jon Garland, and Braden Looper are his top choices. Depending on what the Mets do, Oliver Perez and Ben Sheets could also be options.
For the bullpen, Colletti is eyeing former Dodger Denny Reyes and Luis Ayala.
Recently, Colletti signed 39 year-old backup catcher Brad Ausmus to a one-year deal. He’ll be a big brother to all-star catcher Russell Martin.
Manny does some mentoring too but he mostly brings fun and lightheartedness to the clubhouse.
With all the young players the Dodgers’ have, that’s actually a good thing.
Martin, first baseman James Loney, second baseman Blake DeWitt, center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier, comprise a great young core for the Dodgers to build around.
To complement the fearsome five-some, is shortstop Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey Blake. Colletti re-signed both of them as free agents. The Dodgers GM also added utility man Mark Loretta to give his squad some depth.
If Manny decides to sign somewhere else, Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu are still available to acquire. Already under contact with Dodgers is the overpaid Juan Pierre. He can run but has little power.
Colletti says he’s prepared to start 2009 without Manny. While that’s a good attitude to have, it’s doubtful the sentiment is nothing more than posturing to maintain leverage when negotiating with Boras.
“Nobody’s going to take the place of Manny Ramirez by themselves,” Colletti says, “but we do have good young players that continue to get better and have been in the postseason, in most cases, two out of three years. The expectation from us is they’ll continue to improve.”
If we remove Manny from the equation all together (say, he signs with the Mets), the Dodgers have the hitting and the Giants have the pitching.
While Manny can’t pitch for the Dodgers, he does make that team better. He will definitely make the Giants better.
For two teams laden with young talent, it’s odd that they would invest so much in a player so old (relatively). But Manny turns any team into a contender.