Time on Dodgers’ side in Manny race

DANA POINT, Calif. – Signing Manny Ramirez is on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ list of offseason priorities, general manager Ned Colletti confirmed Monday on the first day of the general manager meetings.

Somewhere below rebuilding the left side of the infield.

And shoring up the bullpen.

Oh, and adding a starting pitcher.

“Those are our top three needs,” said Colletti, sending a not-so-subtle signal that both sides can play hard to get when it comes to a certain dreadlocked power hitter.

Colletti will meet with Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, in the next day or two, maybe by the sprawling swimming pool at the St. Regis resort. Their toes will dabble in the water. That’s all. The Dodgers have not decided to offer Ramirez “A-Rod money,” although they know that $25 million a year for three years might be the minimum offer taken seriously by Boras.

There’s no point in making that offer at this juncture, not when they know Boras plans to field other suitors for at least a month.

“We don’t have enough information to set the course yet,” Colletti said. “I’m not too convinced it will be resolved in a short period of time.”

Colletti was reminded of Ramirez’s quote the day the Dodgers were eliminated in the National League Championship Series, something about his value going up like the price of gas.

Aren’t gas prices dipping?

“That’s a good point,” Colletti said. “I’ll have to check the gas market before I speak to [Boras]. I know how the fans feel. I know how we feel. We saw a lot of good things. Would that continue?”

Then there are those other pressing needs. Replacing or re-signing shortstop Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey Blake is essential. The question of whether closer Takashi Saito will return to form lingers. Bolstering a starting rotation that is only three deep is crucial.

The Dodgers could field a perfectly adequate outfield with Andre Ethier in right field, Matt Kemp in center, Juan Pierre in left and Andruw Jones attempting a comeback from his disastrous first season with the club.

But the fans want Manny. They want the optimism, the joy and, above all, the production: the .396 batting average, 17 home runs and 53 RBIs over the last two months of the regular season; the .520 average in a postseason that took the Dodgers deeper than any time since 1988.

Boras will make a persuasive case that giving Ramirez a five- or six-year deal worth well more than $100 million not only makes sense from a baseball perspective, but also it will be sound business. The Dodgers’ attendance spiked about 4,000 per game after Ramirez was acquired. If each of those customers was worth $50 over the course of an entire season, the net gain would be about $16 million.

That’s why Boras considers Ramirez a rare “iconic” player, like Alex Rodriguez or Barry Bonds, someone whose ability to produce revenue transcends his playing ability. But since Boras will be delivering that spiel to every team with a decent-sized payroll, the Dodgers know there is no hurry.

So, they can re-sign Furcal, as it appears Colletti will do early on. Sign a reliever. Exercise the option on malcontent Brad Penny’s contract for 2009, then trade him for a third baseman, enabling Blake DeWitt to make a permanent move to second. Or decline Penny’s option and try to re-sign Derek Lowe or bring in Ben Sheets for two years.

The Dodgers could even make a play for Jake Peavy, who the San Diego Padres are shopping to a handful of NL teams, including the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. The Dodgers would be long shots because the Padres are loathe to help their intra-divisional neighbors to the north. It would take Clayton Kershaw or Jonathan Broxton, plus DeWitt and Ethier, just to pique the Padres’ interest.

Trading within their division is difficult, Colletti said, because “You are going to see that player play a lot, so you want to be sure you win the deal, so to speak, in order to do something.”

That wouldn’t be the case with Ramirez. As Boras is apt to say, it’s win-win. The Dodgers can address their other needs, then take a breath and refocus on Ramirez at the winter meetings in December. He’ll probably still be available.

“You can’t let one player stand in the way of other things you want to do,” Colletti said. “One guy can’t hold up other needs unless it’s a very unique situation.”

All of which explains the odd priority list. Ramirez could inch his way up as the offseason progresses.

“We’re always looking for a power hitter,” Colletti said, smiling coyly. “That goes without saying.”

Steve Henson is a Senior Writer and Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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Updated Monday, Nov 3, 2008