Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Historic Hot Stove: Manny Ramirez

The big story of this offseason has undoubtedly been Manny Ramirez's free agency. With the way he engineered his trip out of Boston and his subsequent rejuvenation and MVP-caliber play in Los Angeles, there was a lot of debate about his value to a team. And, as the offseason wore on and the economic woes became more and more apparent, his stubborn refusal to accept the Dodgers' big-money contracts seemed to frustrate teams and fans alike. The story finally ended yesterday, though, as Manny and his agent Scott Boras agreed to the Dodgers' 2-years, $45 million contract offer from last week. Now we can finally get to talking about pure, unadulterated baseball as spring training and the World Baseball Classic get underway. I'm quite pleased with that.

But what people seemed to have forgotten this winter when talking about Manny's situation is that this winter was not Manny's first foray into free agency and it was not Manny's first drama-filled winter.

In the winter of 2000, Manny entered free agency for the first time after spending his first 6+ years with the Cleveland Indians. His initial request to the Indians in early November, as posed by agent Jeff Moorad, was for 10 years and $200 million. The Indians countered with a 7 year, $119 million offer. It was not nearly enough, and Manny & Moorad started looking elsewhere. The Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and Rockies showed some early interest (the Rockies were only interested if they couldn't sign Mike Hampton), and Moorad even met with Pat Gillick of the Mariners.

Things really got moving, though, in early December when the Red Sox entered the sweepstakes. Once they made their initial offer of 8 years/$136 million, Manny & Moorad were in business. Cleveland quickly responded with 5 years/$100 million, and, before long, the two clubs were in a bidding war. Ultimately, the Red Sox proved to have the deeper pockets, and their 8 year/$160 million contract won out.

The deal between the Red Sox and Manny was announced on December 11, during the winter meetings. It was also the same day that the Rangers announced their 10 year/$252 million deal with Alex Rodriguez. So, while Manny's deal received a lot of press, it was overshadowed by A-Rod's. Apparently, before the announcement late that day, everyone seemed to think that the talks had been dragging on. That same day, the New York Times printed this article, which opened like this:
"At the rate the Manny Ramirez negotiations are going, Ramirez will be taking the year off in 2001.

The Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox appear to be the only teams competing for the run-producing outfielder, and both indicated today their doubts about being able to sign him. Jeff Moorad, Ramirez's agent, has talked with the Mets, but Steve Phillips reiterated that he is not in the hunt."
Manny & Moorad received plenty of attention the next week, though, when ESPN aired their "Outside the Lines: Inside the Manny Ramirez Deal" episode (follow that link for a transcript of the show). With cameras following Moorad around for a month-and-a-half, ESPN was able to capture much of the negotiation process between Moorad and the various GMs.
"Unidentified female- Jeff, I've got Brian Cashman (ph) on 321.0

Moorad- Hello?

Unidentified male- Jeff?

Moorad- Hey, Brian.

Unidentified male- I'm calling you on Manny and obviously expressing our strong interest. We want to move kind of fast and furious. And we have reached that obviously for some of the other big free agents we'd like to be seen on.

And we're just going to put our best foot forward on a few guys. And whoever decides they want to be a Yankee the most first obviously is going to take us the direction we're going to have to go.

Moorad- Well, that doesn't sound like a real compelling reaching out to Manny Ramirez. So...

Unidentified male- No, well, we want Manny. And there's no hidden ball trick here. And from a position standpoint, our office needs a lot of help. We just don't know if Manny is going to come to us or not.

Moorad- Now we've got our 300-pound gorilla. It's a question of how we move forward and frankly whether Manny is ultimately motivated to sign to New York. "
(Apparently, though, Cashman wasn't too happy with that phone call appearing in the episode.) It also did a pretty good job showing just how much Moorad was in the driver's seat.
"Moorad (on the phone with Manny)- Pat Gillick came by the office. That's the general manager of the Mariners. And he came by yesterday. And he said that they were still thinking through their situation.

I then had an interesting call a little later in the day. I heard from Dan Duquette, who is the general manager of the Red Sox. I told Dan Duquette that, "Listen," that Pedro was a good friend of yours, that your preference was to stay in the American League.

And I said I also like the fact that there's a significant Latino population in Boston. There are a lot of Puerto Ricans. There are a lot of Dominicans. When Pedro pitches up there, they have the entire ballpark full of Dominican flags.

There more I hear Manny, the more I believe that this process is not going to really get going in a more serious way until the winter meetings."
When it came down to the wire, though, ESPN made sure to show us just how involved Manny really was:
"Moorad- If they hire Frankie Mancini (ph) in the clubhouse, he'll go to Boston. OK, so we're talking about Frankie Mancini. He sets up the pitching machine for him.

Moorad- Are you kidding me? That's why. That's why he's Manny. Frankie Mancini is making this decision. That's unbelievable.

So the Red Sox have to find him and tell him he has a new job. And by the way, he has to move to Boston.

[Narrator] Ley- With nearly $200 million on the line, Moorad summons Duquette to smooth over this potential deal breaker.

Moorad- I want you to think on the way up about how you would add to your clubhouse payroll a new clubby, who would be coming over from Cleveland."
Others reported that the Boston deal finally came together when the Red Sox agreed to increase the signing bonus by a "measly" $1 million. However you slice it, and whichever MannyBManny story you choose to believe helped seal the deal, it's pretty clear that the Manny Ramirez free agency of winter 2000 made for some good press, and everyone was plenty willing to capitalize on that - not too unlike this winter, I'd say.

But how happy were the Boston fans with the signing back in early 2001? Was the $160 million price tag worth it, or was there a lot of grumbling about Manny's value? If the annual preview guides from 2001 are any indication, the signing was viewed very positively. The Sporting News guide called it "
the club's most significant free-agent signing ever" and Athlon said that he upgraded Boston's lineup to "the best 3-4-5 in the AL".

From TSN:
"Before the Red Sox signed free-agent slugger Manny Ramirez, there were plenty of signs the club was in bad shape heading into the season. The Sox had failed to satisfy their No. 1 need of a No. 2 starter, they had done nothing to boost the offense, and they had lingering off-field issues that threatened to put an air of negativity over the typically sunny prospects of spring training.

After Ramirez signed, however, it was out with the bad, in with the good. This was far from a typical acquisition by the Red Sox. It was the club's most significant free-agent signing ever. Although rotation depth and Carl Everett's status on the team remain concerns, the Ramirez move instantly restored credibility to the franchise, not to mention the offense.

Suddenly, the team's ever faithful and always cynical fan base has renewed hope. Not many teams have a trio like Ramirez, pitcher Pedro Martinez, and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, plus a closer like Derek Lowe. The Red Sox do, which is why they have a shot at playing in October."
And from Athlon:
"The Red Sox won just 85 games in 2000 finishing in second-place in the standings, and 12th in the AL in runs scored. So they added one of the best hitters and run producers in the game in Manny Ramirez. Now Boston could have one of the most feared 3-4-5 lineup combination in baseball. Before he even signed with Boston, Ramirez knew the ultimate goal. 'I want to beat New York,' he said. 'I'm tired of them winning everything.' Welcome to Boston, Manny.
The Red Sox are looking to Manny Ramirez to improve a disappointing offense. With his presence in the cleanup spot, Boston's lineup goes from anemic to potentially the best 3-4-5 in the AL. He should make Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett even better."
In the end, the contract signed between the Boston Red Sox and Manny Ramirez in December 2000 proved to be rather lucrative for both sides. Yes, the summer of 2008 turned into a mess for the two parties but, before that happened, Manny made $140 million while leading the Sox to two world titles in 4 years. As unhappy as some Red Sox fans are with Manny right now, I feel pretty confident that, in time, he will be greated as warmly by Red Sox Nation as anyone in club history. Whether the same can be said for Manny and the Dodgers is a little tougher to say. We could easily see Manny back on the market next winter and, by then, who knows where he'll be going. With the way Manny embraced Los Angeles last August and September, though, and with the way LA embraced him right back, it does seem quite possible that the Dodgers will be his last team. If that ends up being the case, Dodgers fans have a lot to look forward to.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

So, for $1,000 -- Manny enters Cooperstown with this hat. ... Who are the ...?

Paul said...

for $1000 - it's gotta be the Red Sox, unless he wins 3 World Series with the Dodgers.

Great article, that transcript of the Cashman phone call is amazing. I would love to be a fly on the wall in a top MLB agent's office during the offseason.

lar said...

Oh, I think it's pretty obviously the Red Sox, Mark. Yeah, he was great in Cleveland, but he was only 28 when he left. And he has the potential to be great in LA, especially with the way Los Angelenos are dying for a Latin star, but there's no way he's playing more than 4 or 5 years there and that just won't be enough to sway his HOF cap. If he turns into Barry Bonds, though, and plays until he's 43 or something and hits 700+ home runs, it'll be a different story...

Aaron said...

Great look back here. There's so much baseball information out there now, much of it which has the shelf life of a couple's nice to get some perspective.