The Dodgers' magical 2008 season ended on Wednesday, and with it came the probable end to Manny Mania. For 12 glorious weeks, Manny and his dreadlocks graced Chavez Ravine, turning the normally laid-back atmosphere crazy with Dodger pride.
He turned an average team into a very good one, and he transformed a tense clubhouse into a carefree one. He was a fan and player favorite, loved by every person in the seats and the dugout.
He told everyone how much he loved the city, the fans, and the team. He said he wanted to retire in L.A., and that he'd "already made $160 million, how much money do I need?" And you know what? It was probably true.
But now, his view seems to have changed. Before leaving Dodger Stadium after the Game Five loss to the Phillies, responded to a question about his future by saying, "Let's see who the highest bidder is." That doesn't sound like a guy who had made more than enough money in his career.
Now, don't get me wrong here. I love Manny as much as any Dodger fan, and I'm not ruling out the possibility of him re-signing with the Blue Crew. But I do know that money talks, and with an agent like Scott Boras, the odds of Manny signing for anything less than four years, $100 million are very small. And the Dodgers just won't pay more than that.
But the Dodgers will be just fine without him. In fact, it may even serve them better to not re-sign him at all. If owner Frank McCourt doesn't want to raise the payroll above $125 million, as expected, then giving $25 million to Manny could actually hurt the team's chances next season.
First, the problem the Dodgers have is that Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, and Derek Lowe are free agents as well. This is compounded by the fact that Blake and Manny combined to cost the Dodgers absolutely nothing this past year. Blake will probably looking for a deal around $8-10 million a year, with Furcal and Lowe probably seeking between $10-15 million.
With the additional expiring contracts of Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent, plus an option to terminate Brad Penny's contract, the Dodgers will have approximately $45 million to spend on re-signing these guys.
It basically comes down to this: Would the Dodgers rather have Manny and only one of the above mentioned guys, or would they rather resign Blake, Furcal, and a top-flight starting pitcher—either Lowe or a guy like CC Sabathia?
If the Dodgers fail to re-sign either Blake or Furcal, there would be a gaping hold on the left side of the infield. And as big of a dropoff Juan Pierre is from Manny, putting Pierre in left would be better than playing Chin Lung Hu or Angel Berroa everyday at short.
But Manny or no Manny next year, there is no diminishing the impact he had on the young core of the Dodgers. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, and Russell Martin are the future of this L.A. lineup, and Manny's mere presence for three months gave them a chance to learn from the master of hitting a baseball.
The lessons he has given those guys was apparent during the stretch run, as every one of the youngsters other than Martin (which can be attributed to fatigue) surged in the second half. The growth of these players should be even more apparent next season after a full year of tutelage from Torre and Mattingly. I think it's safe to say that we can expect the young Dodgers to explode at the plate next season.
Even more that that, Manny taught the young guys how to have fun and enjoy the game. All reports from the Dodger clubhouse before Manny's arrival signified that the kids were much too tight and forgetting to have fun. Manny changed all that. His hair, his music, and his overall demeanor were the antidote for those problems this year, and he's left those kids with the blueprint of how to enjoy baseball. And that should make all the difference for the future.
Overall, I would obviously love to see Manny back in blue next year. But the only way that can realistically happen—without damaging the team's chances—is if either McCourt opens his checkbook or Manny lowers his asking price. With the huge expiring contracts of Jason Schmidt and Andrew Jones after the 2009 season, the payroll spike would likely only last one year.
Nearly every Dodger will be under contract after next season, either because they're in long-term deals this year or they're free agents this year. The payroll will probably drop around $20-30 million, which leaves McCourt two options. Either pay up for Manny now, or make a run at someone big next year.
Whatever the outcome, however, I'm confident that Manny's mere presence this year gave the Dodgers hope for the future; whether he's on for the ride or not.