LAS VEGAS – There are so many lights here, they hide the stars.
Maybe that's why Manny Ramirez can't be found.
Through two days, the winter meetings have put a catcher in Cincinnati, a third baseman and utility infielder in L.A. and a closer in New York.
They've sifted through the many, many possibilities for CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. They've pushed rumors of nice offers for familiar starting pitchers (A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe) and shortstops (Rafael Furcal), and a closer (Kerry Wood) in Cleveland.
But what about Manny?
Waiting on Sabathia and Teixeira to drop, perhaps. Waiting out a sluggish economy that is overriding the usual order of baseball's marketplace, maybe. Waiting on general managers to forget he'd acted like a churlish lout on his way out of Boston, possibly. Not a single team among the 15 or so contacted Tuesday said Ramirez was a target of theirs.
Yes, business is slow.
Ned Colletti, the Dodgers general manager, recalls presenting Ramirez's agents with a contract offer the day of Barack Obama's Grant Park rally. That was Nov. 4. On Monday, agent Scott Boras got back to Colletti, letting him know that, of course, the offer wasn't good enough, but Manny really would like to play in L.A.
So, clearly, Boras is unconcerned. In the meantime, Dodgers team president Jamie McCourt mused Dodgers fans might be more interested in developing youth ballfields than signing superstar sluggers, and still Boras waited that month. So, again, it would appear Boras believes there is a place – many places, actually – for Manny, and at a rate one would assume would be greater than the $20 million a year they asked out of in July.
The Dodger offer, the only known offer, is for $45 million over two years.
“Was for $45 million over two years,” one Dodgers executive corrected.
It's off the table, along with the third-year option that, if exercised, would have brought the contract's worth to $60 million.
Now, if an owner of a baseball franchise was of the mind to spend $20 million a year (or more) on a hitter, he'd certainly opt first for the younger (and switch-hitting, and deft-fielding) Teixeira. So, the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles and Nationals will spend their greatest energy there.
Even so, Manny is among the best right-handed hitters in the game. Ever. He is 36, which not only isn't that old (especially not in a DH league), but means he'll demand a shorter contract than Teixeira. When he's happy, he rakes (see three months with Dodgers). When he's unhappy, he rakes (see 7½ years with Red Sox).
He humped it to first on grounders for the Dodgers. He chased balls (sort of) into the gaps for the Dodgers. Joe Torre, peppered by questions late in the season about whether he'd have Manny back, often answered, “This Manny,” meaning the driven and happy Manny.
On Tuesday at the Bellagio hotel, Torre said he had every reason to believe the team that signs Manny will get the one he had for three months.
“I think I'd get the motivated guy, I really do,” he said. “Whatever went on in Boston obviously was more than the Red Sox wanted to put up with. Manny is a very proud guy. He spent a long time in Boston doing good things before something cropped up.”
The Dodgers are still in on Ramirez. Their offer could be reheated and reserved. But, they could in the coming days or weeks re-sign Furcal and find themselves up to their credit lines in Sabathia, and quickly turn away. So, what of the others out there?
The Angels? Teixeira comes first, Sabathia second. Manny?
“It's not a likely scenario,” Angels GM Tony Reagins said. “We think there are opportunities we see that are more important at this time.”
If they were snubbed by Teixeira and Sabathia …
“We'd have another direction we'd want to go before we went that route,” Reagins said.
The Red Sox? Please.
The Yankees? Sabathia first, then Burnett and Lowe, then more pitching, then Teixeira, then Manny. GM Brian Cashman believes nearly all the problems of recent seasons can be fixed on the mound. They could eventually turn to Manny, but it sounds like a distant priority.
The Mets? GM Omar Minaya loves Manny. But he's just added Francisco Rodriguez and he needs at least one starting pitcher and his owner is cutting payroll, not adding, say, $75 million over three years.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is telling teams they want to get more athletic in left field. They're thinking more in terms of Delmon Young or Juan Rivera. And they've got a historical arbitration case coming with Ryan Howard.
Speaking to various team executives wandering the halls here, the question was the same: “Is there a scenario in which Manny would be your DH or left fielder?”
I mean, in anything other than a market that goes wholly soft on him.
The answers were remarkably similar.
The Cubs said no. The Orioles said no. A Giants advisor said Manny's name had not come up in internal conversations yet. The Braves and the Rangers said no. The White Sox and Tigers shook their heads. The Blue Jays guy said, “You can eliminate us.” The A's have Matt Holliday and a hole to fill at shortstop.
The Nationals, well, maybe there's something in D.C.
“I'm not going to talk about any individuals,” team president Stan Kasten said. “Guys, you should have told him that.”
The PR man chuckled his support.
So maybe Manny comes back to the Dodgers. Maybe not enough pitchers take the Yankees' money, and he falls to them. Maybe Reagins and Arte Moreno reconsider, or he becomes too much for Minaya to pass up. He'll play somewhere, and he'll hit, and he'll advance on 600 home runs and, ultimately, the Hall of Fame.
Maybe the market will be there, and he'll sign for four or five seasons, the contract that will make all the summer maneuvering worthwhile. Maybe Boras, who couldn’t be reached for this story, will come off again as the wizard.
Said one executive on his way through a teeming lobby: “I still think the Dodgers are the club. But it's gotten kind of messed up.”
L.A. did seem to fit.
“I just have a sense Manny enjoyed the L.A. area,” Torre said. “It was a place he could lose himself in.”
Must've been all the stars.