The biggest question in Red Sox Nation this week is if the Sox will really trade All Star Manny Ramirez, and if they can ever possibly get equal value in return. The Sox aren't a team of the future and aren't in a rebuilding phase. They need players that can help them win next year, as they are otherwise constructed to do. Prospects won't help in 2006.
Although he batted under .300 for the first time since 1998, Ramirez nevertheless finished third in the American League with 45 home runs and tied for second with 144 RBI. After batting .358 with runners in scoring position, Manny cemented his reputation as a nearly-unstoppable force in clutch situations.
But Manny's lack of focus has become legendary. Though he batted .346 with runners on last season, his average plummeted to just .237 with the bases empty. Then there was his problem with hustle -- whether it was to first base on an infield grounder, or when chasing fly balls in the outfield.
Whether the Sox want to keep their disgruntled slugger or not, Manny seems determined to leave. Tuesday's Providence Journal reported that "it appears agent Greg Genske has communicated to management that Ramirez is so intent on being dealt that he will accept a trade almost anywhere."
At least that what he says today. But the Sox aren't obligated to trade their left fielder. Manny is under contract for the next three years to the tune of $57 million. Does anybody really think he'll sit out and forfeit that cash? I don't. Manny has never been a clubhouse cancer, and he could come around. Money is very motivational.
As to the potential of trading Manny Ramirez, special assistant Craig Shipley indicated both the challenges and the risks of such a deal.
"That's a lot of offense. He's an outstanding hitter. To replace him would be difficult. I think a lot of time and energy has been spent on Manny, trying to come up with a deal that is good for us and a place he would like to go."
Senior advisor Bill Lajoie also warned that a fair deal for Ramirez may not materialize in Dallas.
"First of all, you're not going to get fair value in any way, shape or form. This is an A-1 hitter and you're not going to find an A-1 player that someone is going to give you. So, if you trade him, you will not get the value man for man. And sometimes three or four pieces don't add up to that one man. It just depends."
But Lajoie, who is serving as the point person in Boston's GM-by-committee, also said "There's different values that we place on players that are different than other clubs."
That is a very interesting point of view. The Sox may be looking at more than just home runs and RBIs in return for any trade that involves Manny. Leadership and clubhouse chemistry are clearly important to management, not to mention on base percentage..
Time will tell, but any trade involving Manny would be especially complicated. It could involve multiple players and multiple teams. The taker would need to have the resources to afford Manny's salary, not just the desire. Though the Sox might like to get out from under the weight of his hefty contract in order to address other needs, the truth is they are one of the few teams that can truly afford him, and they'll need to make up his offensive production somehow. And then there's the fact that Manny can veto any trade. The capricious All Star is quite hard to figure out, and even though he's rumored to willing to go "almost anywhere," that just can't be true. Boston just isn't that bad, and neither is being so beloved in a genuine baseball town.
In other matters, don't be surprised if the Sox trade Mike Lowell before he ever formally puts on a Red Sox uniform. The Twins have been interested in him since he was a Marlin. They still need a third baseman and Bill Meuller appears to be headed out West.
The Sox want another starter and would love to jettison Matt Clement and his undeserved contract to make room for one. He could be bait for any fool who's willing to assume the remaining two years on his deal. The Sox also want a slugger to man first base because, even with Manny, they still need more offense. They're also in the market for a second baseman who will assume that role for at least one season.
With that in mind, the Sox are talking to the D-Rays about both OF/1B Aubrey Huff, who they've long coveted, and shortstop Julio Lugo, who they would move to second.
This is an exciting time in Hot Stove baseball, and the Sox are likely to make some dynamic moves this week that will improve the club, even if Manny Ramirez isn't involved in any of them.
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