After a season in which the Los Angeles Dodgers advanced to the National League Championship Series for the first time in 20 years, primarily because of the midseason acquisition of Manny Ramirez, the team faces the dilemma of designating a significant portion of its payroll to re-signing the slugger or explaining to its constituency, the second-largest market in the nation, that continuing to cultivate homegrown talent is the long-term priority.
As baseball’s winter meetings drew to a close, Ned Colletti, the general manager of the Dodgers, issued Ramirez a contract offer for a reported two to three years at $25 million a season. Scott Boras, Ramirez’s agent has stated consistently that Ramirez is a seeking a contract comparable in both length and compensation to those of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez signed a 10-year deal worth approximately $275 million last December, and Bonds signed a five-year deal worth $90 million that expired after the 2007 season.
The impact that Ramirez had on the Dodgers last season, and his prodigious statistical production, indicate that Manny is worth whatever he can get on the open market, as trite as that sounds.
When Rodriguez signed his extension with the Yankees last offseason, he was 32 years old and had just hit 54 home runs, the second highest total of his career. Though the Yankees didn’t and shouldn’t expect Rodriguez to perpetually equal this output, by signing him to a contract of that length, the team was betting on consistent production for 75 percent of the contract.
Comparing the Rodriguez contract to the one that Ramirez is seeking is a fine negotiating tool for Boras, but the parallel is unrealistic. The Bonds situation provides a better example: He was 38 years old and coming off a record-breaking year when he re-signed with the Giants.
Manny didn’t hit 71 home runs last year, but his career averages are equitable to those of Bonds. Over the course of 22 seasons, Bonds averaged 34.6 home runs and 90.7 RBI and compiled a .298 batting average. Over 16 seasons, Ramirez has averaged 33 home runs and 108 RBI with a .314 average.
For the first two years of his contract, Bonds remained consistent, statistically, though he played less often than in previous seasons. However, he was not nearly as productive his final three seasons, when he was past 40 years of age.
Utilizing this comparison, Colletti can assume that Manny, based on his age, will give the Dodgers three solid, if not spectacular, years, a supposition that justifies the offer currently on the table. Though, by all accounts, Ramirez maintains an exemplary athletic regimen, the likelihood that he will be as productive past his 40th birthday as he was last season is minimal.
Manny is faced with additional problems. The Dodgers need pitching and might be willing to transfer Manny money to a player such as CC Sabathia. As Colletti said, the offer to Ramirez “is not going to be there forever.”
Furthermore, though Manny is deserving of a lucrative contract for his on-field contributions to Los Angeles, the number of teams that can match his salary request is limited; of those teams, it is unclear which would be willing to do so.
Nonetheless, the Dodgers would be foolish to allow Manny to depart: With him, the team is a favorite to win its division and perhaps advance to the World Series. Without him, the Dodgers will be competitive but will lack the appeal of last season, when Manny became the central symbol of an electrified franchise.
Colletti should offer Ramirez a five-year deal worth between $100 and $125 million, reserving the option to trade him to an American League team, to serve as a designated hitter, on his 40th birthday.
Signing Manny is not an insurance policy, and the Dodgers have been burned the last few years in the free-agent market (see Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre), but with a core of talented, young players, the Dodgers have an opportunity to win now. Signing Ramirez is Colletti’s offseason imperative.