Not quite a month ago at the winter meetings, I stalked the Bellagio lobbies and corridors hoping to identify the Manny Ramirez market, only to feel like an out-of-towner who'd gone looking for a wall clock.
Now baseball's winter stage is mostly his and, it turns out, a gallon of gas costs less than $2, even in L.A. Hey, it was his metaphor.
Because Ramirez is going on 37, is (at best) average defensively and can be a handful if not completely happy with his contract and environment, the migration of the Teixeira bidders to the Ramirez bazaar maybe isn't exactly what Scott Boras had in mind, though I wouldn't say for sure, because Boras is not often wrong about these things.
It takes only one willing owner to make a market, and maybe Frank McCourt, Bill Neukom or Ted Lerner is that special guy, but the climate is undoubtedly different when the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels are off filling other needs.
This isn't to say there isn't a seething, frothing demand for Ramirez – I mean, this has been the best bat on the market since Day 1, including Teixeira – it's just that I can't happen to find it.
The coming week or so would seem to be Ramirez's time. Teixeira is due to be announced in the Bronx. The market for some of the other hitters out there – Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Milton Bradley, Bobby Abreu – is forming. Season-ticket checks are arriving (or not). The holidays are over with. Spring training is, like, six weeks away.
So, in what could be the final days of his free agency, here's another shot at framing Manny's market:
Los Angeles Dodgers: The only offer we really know about is from McCourt, a two-year, $45 million bid extended in early November that is technically off the table but could still be had. Conversations between Boras and GM Ned Colletti are becoming more routine, if not necessarily more productive. You could argue the club's greater need is for a starting pitcher and at least two relievers, but Dodgers fans fell in love with Ramirez, and the signings of infielders Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake haven't made them forget their dreadlocked savior. The Dodgers are still the favorites, but it doesn't sound like they're willing to come up much from their original offer, which included a third-year option. Meantime, they're batting around the likes of Dunn and Abreu and, of course, are trying to dump Andruw Jones. Boras and Jones did have to agree to defer much of Jones' 2009 salary, which would help free up cash for Ramirez. But, lest it appear they did the Dodgers some great favor (in return for a Ramirez contract), it was Jones who requested a trade, and therefore Jones who had to make the concessions.
San Francisco Giants: This actually makes more sense than the Dodgers. Considering they've upgraded a bad bullpen and a worse offense already, and considering everyone else in the National League West is standing pat or digressing, the Giants – with Ramirez – could be the division favorites. Ownership and GM Brian Sabean would have to fight the perception this is Barry Bonds II, but, hey, Barry I put them in a new ballpark and filled it most nights. And Ramirez might have his knucklehead moments, but he won't be indicted for anything anytime soon. The Giants are in.
Tampa Bay Rays: A mistake on a contract this size would set them back to, oh, 2007, so the Rays won't bite. But of all his possible destinations, Ramirez should be in St. Petersburg, Fla. His bat would be perfect there – where wouldn't it be? – and he would allow the Rays to answer the Yankees excesses of the past month. Alas, the Rays bowed out on Milton Bradley when they learned they'd have to go to $30 million over three years, so Ramirez is way out of reach.
Washington Nationals: They were in 'til the end on Teixeira, so why not Ramirez? Well, because Teixeira would have been the face of the organization for a decade, at a time when the club is up against serious talent and relevancy issues. Looks like they're thinking more in terms of Dunn and Orlando Hudson than Ramirez. Also, if the Brewers choose to shop Prince Fielder, GM Jim Bowden will be first in line.
New York Yankees: What's another $100 million? Team sources are lukewarm on Ramirez, however, particularly with the roster bloated with outfielders and DH types. If they can quickly move one or two outfielders – from a group that includes Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher – maybe they storm into the Manny mix. More likely, they'll sign Andy Pettitte and call it a winter.
New York Mets: They've loaded up on eighth- and ninth-inning pitchers and now need to spend on at least one first-inning pitcher (Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, Jon Garland). As long as Ramirez is demanding more than $20 million a season, according to one team official, the Mets won't be players.
Toronto Blue Jays: They made sense for a while, but now GM J.P. Ricciardi won't be looking to add payroll. If he can move Lyle Overbay and/or Scott Rolen, then perhaps Ramirez becomes a possibility. A longshot.
Texas Rangers: While granting Ramirez would be a "great fit," a team source said signing him was "unlikely."
Baltimore Orioles: They're trying to go younger and grittier. They're trying to play better defense. They want great clubhouse characters. Probably won't work.
Los Angeles Angels: GM Tony Reagins says they won't shop there.
Chicago Cubs: They seem to have settled on Bradley.
Chicago White Sox: Nope.