Kemp doles out high praise for Manny
Outfielder wants free-agent slugger back in Dodger Blue
PHOENIX -- Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp attended Sunday night's NBA All-Star Game and was reminded of Manny Ramirez."I compare him to Kobe Bryant," said Kemp. "He makes everybody around him better. Manny's the Kobe Bryant of baseball. Of course we want him back and of course we need him. He's a freak."
He's also still out of work. General manager Ned Colletti reported nothing new in the ongoing and fruitless contract talks with the free agent. While Ramirez's curious holdout is daily blogosphere fodder, it hasn't received nearly as much attention in the Dodgers' new clubhouse at Camelback Ranch-Glendale, which is in no small part due to the fact that there's still no heat hooked up, evidenced by the 56-degree temperature reading on the indoor thermometer."Nobody's really talking about Manny that much," said catcher Russell Martin. "Everybody is focusing on what they need to do. If we were closer to the start of the season, maybe it would be different. The bottom line is, either he signs or he doesn't. Everything in the meantime is just wasted breath." Manager Joe Torre wasted a little breath on Ramirez when asked if he thought about a 2009 season without the left fielder. "I don't even want to think about him not being here," said Torre. "I hope we find a way and what we're trying to do works for him. But if he doesn't show up, we'll find a way without him. I won't worry about that until he shows up in somebody else's uniform." Torre agreed with Kemp that Ramirez made the players around him better, especially the young players like Kemp, and Torre speculated that there will be lasting improvement even if Ramirez doesn't return. "I think they learned, even if he's not here they will have gained something," said Torre. "A lot of it is the pressure. He took the pressure off. We're all better if he's here. But it is a mind game." As an organization, the Dodgers presume they've made Ramirez the best offers, as well as the only ones publicly known. They believe he wants to return. Nobody is sure if he even has another team in pursuit, although agent Scott Boras says they are out there. But this standoff is unique because the Dodgers aren't negotiating against other teams as much as they are with the expectations of the player on a financial landscape turned upside down. He has a Hall of Fame resume, he escaped two option years with the trade to the Dodgers and he was determined to play out of his mind (and did) for one final, long-term payday that hasn't happened. From all indications, Ramirez believes it's unfair for global, national or industry economics to reduce the value of a player of his special qualities, even one turning 37 in May. Regardless, having held out this long, he presumably has no motivation to take a Dodgers deal any earlier than it will take him to be ready for Opening Day. "There's no discounting how valuable he was for us," said Colletti. "But we'll still open, we'll still compete, we'll still be a good club." Just a better one with Ramirez. "There's no sub for Manny Ramirez, plain and simple," said pitcher Jeff Weaver. "Obviously, he can change the complexion of a team, as was evident last year. He took them to the next level." Brad Ausmus, a Major Leaguer for 16 years, paid Ramirez the ultimate compliment for an opponent. "Few players come along that the fans come to watch swing the bat, but Manny is one of them," he said. "There's Ken Griffey, Barry Bonds, Albert Belle was one. And Manny, legitimately, is a guy I would pay to watch."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.