Manny tops Dodgers' free-agent list
Club weighs options with 13 other players to possibly replace
LOS ANGELES -- Over the past 10 seasons, the Dodgers spent $800 million on multiyear contracts.
The majority of their fans want to push that number toward the $1 billion mark if that's what it takes to re-sign Manny Ramirez to the richest, and one of the longest, contracts in franchise history. They saw Ramirez unleash an amazing 2 ½ months of run production and figure the club can't win in 2009 without him.
The decision makers, however, look back on meager returns from the $800 million. They also know that nobody can continue to produce at the level Ramirez did during his honeymoon in Mannywood, especially for six years to the age of 42. So at last week's General Managers Meetings, they offered Ramirez a reported two-year contract for $45 million to $50 million (plus an option year), knowing Ramirez wants three times that.
The Dodgers consider their offer generous with limited exposure to the loss of skills expected when a player hits the Big Four-Oh. Now agent Scott Boras will conduct a methodical auction to maximize bidding, with no decision expected much before next month's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers can't just sit around and wait. They have 13 other free agents to replace on the roster. If none return, they'll have lost their top two starting pitchers over the past four years (Derek Lowe and Brad Penny), four starting infielders (Rafael Furcal, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra and Casey Blake), a pair of key relievers (Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park) and the eighth-winningest pitcher of all-time (Greg Maddux), along with Ramirez, Mark Sweeney, Gary Bennett, Pablo Ozuna and Jason Johnson.
If everybody leaves, it would free up $63.5 million from a payroll of $120 million in 2008.
Losing the innings and salaries of Lowe and Penny lead some to believe that, if the Dodgers sign a huge contract this winter, it will be for top pitcher CC Sabathia, although the club's history with high-paid pitchers is particularly dismal.
From the $105 million the Dodgers pledged to Kevin Brown to the $55 million they gave Darren Dreifort to the $47 million for Jason Schmidt, nothing has handicapped the Dodgers over the last decade like wasteful multiyear contracts for pitchers.
Cynics would add that the club's record for position players is nothing to brag about, either. There's the $44 million guaranteed to Juan Pierre, who still has three years and $28.5 million remaining and wants to be traded because he doesn't start, and the $36.2 million for Andruw Jones. Jones has let it be known he wants out too after a horrendous first season in Los Angeles, although the remaining $21 million he's owed will be even harder to deal than Pierre's contract.
That's further evidence of the dangers of multiyear contracts, which is why Colletti has clung so tightly to his core of young players -- Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw.
Colletti tried to quickly re-sign Furcal, but the shortstop is seeking more guaranteed years coming off back surgery than Colletti is comfortable giving, so his re-signing is uncertain. Colletti also has had discussions with Casey Blake's agent, needing to clarify the infield before replenishing his starting rotation and middle of the batting order. Available free agent infielders include Orlando Hudson, Orlando Cabrera, Ray Durham and Felipe Lopez. Blake is said to prefer a return to Cleveland.
Fans are intrigued by the availability via trade of San Diego pitcher Jake Peavy and possibly Colorado left fielder Matt Holliday, but acquiring franchise-type players from division rivals is virtually unprecedented and guaranteed to cost such a premium in players returned that it creates more holes than it fills.
"Those things rarely happen," said Boras, who represents Holliday.
In addition to Furcal and Blake, the Dodgers would like to re-sign Maddux, but he's more likely to retire. Park also proved valuable out of the bullpen in a comeback season and could return if he can't find a starting job elsewhere.
With no indication that the club or Lowe want to continue their relationship, the Dodgers staff needs an innings eater like Sabathia or A.J. Burnett.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.