Dodgers hit reset button on Ramirez talks

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Four months into negotiations he called "interminable" and clearly irked they have bled into the opening of the spring training facility he'll share with the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said Sunday morning the club would resume talks with free agent Manny Ramirez as early as Monday, but without regard to previous negotiations.

Seven hours later, agent Scott Boras responded with a statement answering some of McCourt's more specific gripes and outlining a new proposal he said splits the difference between the sides' last offers. The email included a testimonial quote from Ramirez, who said Boras has kept him apprised of the minute-by-minute movements in the negotiations, contrary to McCourt's allegations from earlier in the day.

One of these days it would seem the Dodgers and Ramirez will have no choice but to fall into each other's arms. But that day wasn't Sunday, when they cut the ribbon on Camelback Ranch.

"We have continued to work with Ned [Colletti] and the Dodgers to do away with the artificial barriers and attempt [to] get a deal completed," the late-afternoon statement said, a reference to McCourt's Friday deadline. "There is no issue with deferral money being part of any contract; just want to make sure the value is stated accurately and appropriately."

The statement also revealed that new counter offer from the Ramirez/Boras camp.

"Our most recent offer Saturday morning covered two years with some deferred compensation [$43.5 million net present value]," it read. "Manny directed me to compromise between the Dodgers last offer of $42 million net present value [$45 million with differed compensation] and our $45 million without deferred money. However, we have yet to hear from them on our last three offers."

The final paragraph was a statement from Ramirez himself.

"I would not allow negotiations to take place without being involved and talk to Scott nearly every day," Ramirez is quoted as saying. "I have given Scott offers that he has given to the Dodgers, and he has given me all offers from the team."

The Dodgers have made four offers to Ramirez, including arbitration. Ramirez has turned them all down. Boras has countered now four times on Ramirez's behalf, last week announcing Ramirez would accept $45 million over two years, with none of the money deferred, and now softening that slightly.

Though the sides would appear to be close – the Dodgers' last offer was for $45 million, but with $25 million deferred without interest – McCourt insisted the club would not re-enter negotiations believing it had only that small ground to cover.

"We're going to start from scratch," he said defiantly.

He spoke instead of Friday's passing deadline, connected only to the weekend his new spring facility would open.

"I'd love to be talking about Manny," he said, "but about Manny as a Dodger."

He labeled Boras' subsequent complaints about the deferred money as "disingenuous," considering, he said, it was Boras who originally suggested the tactic in order to improve the contract's top line.

"It's a sideshow, a smoke screen," McCourt said. "Call it what you will."

The sides traded snippy press releases late last week and the rancor hadn't died in the owner's office by Sunday afternoon, hours before the first game at Camelback Ranch. In fact, McCourt said, he had his public relations department issue a press release "to let Manny know" Boras had rejected the offer, suggesting Boras might not be telling his client everything.

McCourt even hinted the Dodgers have made their best offer.

"Every day things are changing and we need to be mindful of that," he said. "We've made four offers since November. And, you know what, the world isn't anything like the way it was in November."

Boras and Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti spoke briefly Saturday. Colletti said there'd been "no progress" made.

Asked if he weren't allowing his emotions to cloud negotiations, McCourt responded, "If it were, I wouldn't share it with you. It's fair to say I'm a little frustrated. … It's a distraction."

You perhaps get the feeling Ramirez has given Boras a report date. Like, maybe, March 7.

Hold off the Dodgers 'til then. Tell 'em it's about deferred compensation (McCourt will freak). A car auction. Another one. Visa problems getting out of Miami.

He'd still get a month of swings in, or about three weeks more than he'd really need.

This can't be about the contract anymore. They're maybe a couple million dollars apart now, the interest on ridiculous money. The Dodgers would make that up in dreadlock wig sales. Manny, you're thinking, will eat fine with or without it.

So, it has to be about Manny's distaste for spring training, which on Sunday afternoon inched into March without him.

They opened Camelback Ranch, the 140-acre compound west of downtown Phoenix. They had fireworks and someone kind of famous sing the national anthem and a cool Native American/hoola hoop dance thing, and then they played an exhibition baseball game, which (good news for Manny) did not sell out.

The Ranch is a nice enough place and representative of spring training's gradual westward lean. The migration of the Dodgers and Indians make 14 teams in Arizona, which Manny would be glad to know doesn't mean a single bus ride of more than a couple hours.

But, as much as McCourt tried to make the day about the new complex and America and baseball's place in it, the conversation kept veering off course.

"Tomorrow, the next day, we can talk about Manny," McCourt pleaded. "It would be a shame to miss this moment."

Then the moment would pass. There'd be another Manny question. Then Jim Bowden, on his way out of D.C., dropped a Manny reference. Then Juan Pierre started in left field. Then the Dodgers scored just two runs. And then Boras stormed back with a press release, shattering what McCourt insisted would be "a quiet period."

Ever dutiful, Joe Torre held up his hand and said he was out.

"You know, I haven't been talking about the Manny thing," he said. "I'd rather not answer questions about the Manny thing, especially with things going back and forth. We want him, obviously. Beyond that, I really don't want to get into it."

In that, he stands alone.

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