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Market Watch: Manny Ramirez

OF Manny Ramirez
Age: 36
Height, weight: 6-0, 190 pounds
Career stats: .314 BA, 527 HR, 1725 RBI, 1.004 OPS
Agent: Scott Boras

When you give a free agent a monster contract, what are you paying for? Theoretically, you should be paying for the production you believe the player will make during the course of the contract. But in reality, what you are paying for is the player's past production, because you really don't know what he will produce in the future. In many cases, logic says the player's production will decline, but that logic is ignored in the face of overwhelming numbers from his past. This is how Mo Vaughn happens, how Barry Zito happens, etc.

Here's the deal: Manny Ramirez is an historic hitter, a Hall-of-Fame hitter. How many right-handed hitters in baseball do you think have accumulated 500 homers and 1,700 RBI while batting .300 with a 1.000 OPS over the course of his career? Try two: Ramirez and Jimmy Foxx.

However, Ramirez is 36. He turns 37 next May. And here is where mistakes get made in free agency. Although Ramirez was one of the top hitters in baseball last season, there is every reason to believe his numbers will decline in the coming years.

Since 1901, only three players have produced a season of 40 homers, 100 RBI and a 1.000 OPS at the age of 37 or older: Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds (twice) and Babe Ruth. Only Bonds, Ruth and Ted Williams have accumulated 100 homers and a 1.000 OPS after the age of 37.

In the post-steroids, post-amphetamines era, giving big money to aging stars is even more dangerous than usual. How many 36-and-over position players started for the four teams who made it to the League Championship Series? Two: Ramirez and Boston's Jason Varitek. More than ever, this is a young man's game.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, whom Ramirez carried to the division title this season with a sizzling two months, made a smart first offer to Ramirez, one that, according to GM Ned Colletti, would make Ramirez the second-highest paid player in baseball, by average annual salary, behind Alex Rodriguez. It can be inferred the contract offer was for two years and around $50 million. The offer was smart because it would compensate Ramirez at a level consistent with his status as one of the two or three greatest hitters in the game, while protecting the team, to a degree, from the inevitable decline.

Also, Colletti wisely put an expiration date on the offer, essentially saying take it or leave it. At the very least, Colletti has made a good-faith attempt at keeping Ramirez, which should insulate him from any backlash should Ramirez walk away. And the Dodgers know there is almost zero chance that Ramirez will accept the offer without first testing the market. He is, after all, a Scott Boras client.

Boras, who is arguably better at his specific job than anyone associated with the game of baseball, is likely to be satisfied at the average salary of $25 million (though he will undoubtedly argue it should be even higher). But the years? Not so much. Publicly, at least, he is seeking a six-year (!) deal for Ramirez, which means he will be asking teams to pay Ramirez through the season in which he turns 42. (Number of players who hit 40 homers with a 1.000 OPS at age 40 or higher: zero.) More likely, he would happily settle for four.

There are enough big-money teams in need of offense that it behooves Boras to test the market at this point. Hank Steinbrenner has already telegraphed the Yankees' interest, and any time the Yankees are involved it is a good thing for the player. The Toronto Blue Jays represent an intriguing possibility, as do the newly crowned World Series-champion Philadelphia Phillies, where Ramirez could move seamlessly into Pat Burrell's spot in left field and be reunited with Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel, his former hitting coach from their days with the Cleveland Indians. Although Omar Minaya is denying interest, the New York Mets are always a possibility.

The Boston Red Sox? Uh, no.

Let's say Boras wants four years for Ramirez. The Dodgers are offering two. It would make sense to split the difference -- say, three years, $75 million. Boras may be banking on that fallback position as he prepares to test the market. But if you're the Dodgers, do you like the idea of paying Ramirez $25 million at the age of 39? If not, you may want to stick to your initial offer, tell your fans you did your best and wish Mr. Ramirez best of luck in the future.

By Dave Sheinin  |  November 6, 2008; 9:58 AM ET
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My only comment is that Manny weighs in at about 225. He hasn't weighed 190 lbs since he was a teenager.

Posted by: Iowahoosier | November 6, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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