Manny Ramirez returns for L.A. encore

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Manny Ramirez, the wandering personality and dynamic hitter who bullied his way out of Boston last summer before leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to the National League championship series, agreed to a deal with the Dodgers on Wednesday for basically the same two-year, $45 million contract that had been on the table for weeks.

More than four months of mostly languid and occasionally rancorous negotiations ended with Ramirez ready to fly from L.A. to Phoenix after he takes a physical, joining teammates who've toiled in the desert for weeks and will be glad to have him. Ramirez traveled from his Florida home to L.A. on Tuesday night and Wednesday met with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who went public last weekend with his exasperation with Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras.

Manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti also met with Ramirez. A press conference is likely to be scheduled for Thursday.

At the end of a protracted free-agent experience he likely found to be beneath his infamous rising-cost-of-gas expectations, Ramirez agreed to again play left field for the Dodgers, who'd not won a playoff series in 20 years before his arrival last summer. He can opt out after the season, meaning the whole affair could restart in November.

The contract will pay him $25 million in 2009, $20 million in 2010, though a portion of both seasons will be deferred. The sticking point last week was the extent of the deferred money – the Dodgers wanted to spread the cash over five years, while Ramirez wanted his salaries paid closer to the years he earned them. The final terms were a steep fall from the expectations he had when he took on Boras as his agent last year and envisioned a four-year contract in the $100-million range, and reflected the paucity of suitors for Ramirez. Only the Dodgers made an offer of any kind.

The negotiations took a combative turn in the final days, when McCourt, frustrated by what he called Boras' “disingenuous” tactics, took on the agent in a series of curt press releases. Citing the lack of market for Ramirez and the suffering economy, McCourt declared all offers off the table last weekend and promised to restart negotiations “from scratch.”

Boras responded with a counteroffer Saturday morning that split the difference between the previous proposals:

The Dodgers had offered two years and $45 million, with $25 million deferred over the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. (Sparking speculation, then, that McCourt was enduring cash flow problems.) The second year of the contract was at Ramirez's option.

Boras then asked for two years and $45 million, with none of the contract deferred. The compromise, which Ramirez said he instructed Boras to bring to the table, brought the sides to within about $1.5 million of each other when factoring in inflation, less than $1 million after taxes.

Ramirez's salary will be the second-highest in the major leagues, behind Alex Rodriguez, but only for next season. Not that Ramirez will starve – his career earnings will have exceeded $200 million by the end of the deal. No player has reached that figure, although Rodriguez will hit it this season and Derek Jeter will get there in 2010.

Playing before smitten fans that honored him with faux dreadlocks and rousing cheers, Ramirez batted .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 games for the Dodgers. He then batted .520 and hit four more home runs in the playoffs, carrying the organization to its first NLCS appearance since it won the 1988 World Series. Ramirez finished fourth (behind Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard and Ryan Braun) in NL MVP voting.

Along the way, Ramirez said over and over he was simply happy to be away from the Red Sox and out of Boston, where he'd felt cramped by his stardom, and lobbied publicly for the Dodgers to re-sign him. As a condition of his trade and in preparation for what he assumed would be an active and fruitful free agency, Ramirez had had two option years – valued at $40 million – in his contract voided. He left the Dodgers clubhouse in late October saying, “Gas is up and so am I.”

He hit free agency going on 37, however, and with a feeling among general managers that his defense was better suited for the American League (where he wouldn't have to play it at all) and simmering front-office concerns about the manner in which he left the Red Sox.

The difficult economic climate didn't stop rich contracts being awarded to the few who drew the New York Yankees' attention – CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were the season's big winners – but the market never came up to Ramirez's hopes for a four- or five-year contract at $25 million per. Boras tried to wait out a market he compared to “Aunt Jemima” for its syrupy-ness, but by the end had only the Dodgers and their irritated owner.

What had not materialized for Ramirez – for whatever reason – was interest from Boras' usual sources. The Yankees jumped in late on Teixeira, spent nearly a half-billion dollars on three players and had nowhere to put Ramirez. Just a year ago, Yankees management had made clear its intention to make the club leaner, younger and more athletic, and going four or five years on Ramirez didn't fit that plan. The Mets were focused on pitching and fiscal belt-tightening. The Angels lost out on Teixeira and never even dabbled in Ramirez talks, refusing to grow old on two fronts (Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero) in the middle of their lineup, and eventually grabbed Bobby Abreu on the cheap.

On the periphery, no matter how hard Boras tried to drum up interest, the likes of the Blue Jays, White Sox, Cubs, Phillies and Rangers refused to become involved, leaving the Dodgers keenly in and the San Francisco Giants stuck in between. The Giants considered Ramirez a potential attendance draw and a serious offensive force in the mold of Barry Bonds, though without the surliness and occasional federal indictment. They also hoped their presence – sincere or otherwise – might serve to run up the price on the rival Dodgers, much the way the Yankees-Red Sox relationship works from November to spring training.

The only bit of leverage they gained through the process was lately, when the last remaining top-tier free-agent corner outfielders signed, Adam Dunn with the Nationals and Abreu with the Angels. Any notion that the Dodgers could turn to one of them if Ramirez signed elsewhere evaporated.

But with the rest of the Dodgers already playing spring training games at their new Glendale, Ariz., facility, Boras and Ramirez accepted an offer that closely resembled the ones Boras had dismissed as noncompetitive. He said in mid-November he'd soon be, “for the first time, taking serious offers” for Ramirez.

It was generally assumed the Dodgers made payroll room for Ramirez by releasing Andruw Jones, who agreed to defer most of his contract, saving the club more than $13 million in 2009. In reality, that money went toward the club's successful efforts to re-sign shortstop Rafael Furcal and Casey Blake, and then to chase mid-level starting pitching and, in a late move, add second baseman Orlando Hudson. The budget for Ramirez was entirely Ramirez's, though the club disagreed with Boras' assertion Ramirez's contract – through ticket sales and other revenue draws – would pay for itself. Dodgers home attendance spiked about 4,000 per game after Ramirez arrived, making his presence over a full season worth $12 million to $16 million, assuming he continues to draw the extra fans.

There is little doubt, however, that Ramirez, in three months, became an iconic everyday player in L.A. not seen since Mike Piazza. And by the end of this contract, Ramirez, already a lock Hall of Famer, has said he wants to play long enough to surpass 600 home runs and take aim at 700.

Assuming manager Joe Torre can keep him happy, assuming he is not disillusioned with a contract he might view as beneath him, assuming he doesn't become disillusioned before the contract expires, Ramirez can push the Dodgers again into the playoffs. He allows the likes of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Russell Martin to be support players before they are asked to lead a club. He changes a lineup that had long bouts with inconsistency.

He could also kill a young clubhouse, if indeed he were to adopt the same attitude that carried him out of Boston, when the end of his contract drew near and his effort flagged and even his teammates admitted it was time for him to go.

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