Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 31, 2003
BASEBALL: Manny Roulette
I'm fascinated by the Red Sox decision to put Manny Ramirez on waivers, thus allowing any major league team to claim him, provided they pony up the 5-year $100 million price tag remaining on his contract. The move has been widely interpreted as a dare to the Yankees to take on Ramirez, and the Boston Herald reports that that's where Manny would like to land.
There are three obvious points:
1. Manny is the best hitter in the American League, as one can see from a variety of available evidence; he was second the AL in OPS in 2003 and in 2002, and led the AL in Equivalent Average (EqA, the Baseball Prospectus offensive metric) in 2003 and in 2002. As a general rule, you don't give up players like that lightly when you are a contending team, as the Red Sox indisputably are.
2. Manny's a bit of a dog and a bit of a hot dog, and alienated a lot of people this season. There are some people who would like to get rid of him for that alone, plus he's not a real good fielder or baserunner, and tends to be injury prone.
3. As a general rule, very few players are worth $20 million a year for five years, given the cost of available alternatives, and still fewer who are turning 32 next season. Assuming that the Red Sox have a reasonably fixed budget, that's money that could be spread around to pay for a lot of players.
The trick, though, is not to make any one of these points a knee-jerk reaction ("Manny's great, you can't let him go!" "He's a bum anyways!").
So, do you let Manny walk? I figure the Yanks won't get him, actually; teams with lesser records get first call, and among other teams, he fits too well with the hitting-desperate Dodgers, who just yesterday cut Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby to clear some major salary space. Manny would slide right into the role vacated by Gary Sheffield in LA.
Personally, while I can see the overall logic, my take is that if you're trying to win now, you need to put the extra money into improving other parts of the team right away; the problem us that because there's really no weak spots in the lineup to add offense back to make up for losing Ramirez (unless you expect the Sox to bag Vladimir Guerrero, who's the only remotely available player who'd be an upgrade), the move only makes sense if (1) you're going to turn around and use the cash to shore up the starting rotation or (2) you're actually trying to save money instead of trying to win.
Shoring up the rotation, though, isn't as easy as it sounds; pitching is hard to come by even when you have the money to spend. There are only seven free agents who might give the Sox some real bang in the rotation:
Of those, Clemens remains most likely to retire; the Yankees will not allow themselves to be outspent by Boston on Pettitte; Maddux is old and not all that durable; Foulke, while an outstanding closer who probably has the stuff to be a starter, is nonetheless an unproven commodity as a starter; and Loaiza has a long record of mediocrity behind his one year of big success (in which he threw about a fifth of his innings against the Tigers). That would leave the Sox with just two genuine places to spend the money -- Colon and Millwood. This is problematic as well: first, those guys would know they can drive a hard bargain; the Phillies in particular will likely make a big push to re-sign Millwood; and Colon's conditioning doesn't exactly suggest he'd be a better long-term investment than Manny. (The possibility of a swap of Ramirez for former Red Sox pitching prospect Curt Schilling is more intriguing).
Besides, there may be cheaper ways to help the rotation. I still think you can get part of the way by investing some patience in Kim and Fossum, although it may be that Kim needs another change of scenery (I'll be very happy with Jim Duquette if he starts next season with both Kim and Foulke at Shea Stadium, but that's another story). Yes, $100 million's a BIG CONTRACT -- but I don't see where the Sox wind up coming out ahead on replacing Ramirez.