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Baseball notes

Dodge ball just got better

Ramirez adds pop to punchless lineup

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 3, 2008

Remember, it was only a week ago that Manny Ramírez asked the Red Sox to place him on the disabled list so he could rest his aching knee.

Remember, there is no designated hitter in the National League.

Remember, the Dodger Stadium outfield is more spacious than that at Fenway Park, and NL parks are bigger in general.

Remember, Ramírez's contract situation really isn't resolved. The option years have been taken off, so now the player who wanted some certainty about his future probably has less now than he did when he set out to leave Boston.

Remember, Terry Francona managed Ramírez as well as anyone ever has. Dodgers skipper Joe Torre, I'm sure, has been or will be on the telephone with Francona, looking for advice. Good luck with that. They speak a lot, anyway, but while Torre has managed all types of players, and has admired Ramírez from afar, he has rarely seen anything close to this. My guess is the Dodgers will be dealing with something Manny-related before this season is done.

However, with all the quirks, Manny-isms, and concerns aside, if Ramírez plays a reasonable amount of time for the Dodgers, they could win the NL West, because they now have an offensive force in the middle of the lineup.

Nomar Garciaparra had to answer many questions about Manny in Boston, and even though he was put on the disabled list Friday to make room for Ramírez on the roster, he'll have to do the same in Los Angeles. Garciaparra even agreed with Manny's feelings about the Sox' front office, which once offered him a four-year, $60 million deal. Derek Lowe was always very frank about Ramírez's quirks, and now he'll have to put on a positive face to support his new/old teammate.

Other than the usual Ramírez distractions, it was a great move for the Dodgers because they got Manny for free, which is the only way that Los Angeles or Florida would have made the deal, which says a lot about Ramírez's value and what it might be in the offseason when he's a free agent.

The Dodgers gave up prospects they didn't need - Andy LaRoche and Single A pitcher Bryan Morris - and got the guy who becomes the third-best righthanded hitter in the National League, after Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. For a team that hasn't hit well, and thus hasn't scored enough, Ramírez should enhance the Dodgers' lineup greatly.

We know Ramírez has been good for teams when he first gets there, and then in the postseason. In his first 56 games with the Red Sox in 2001, Ramírez hit .388 with 20 home runs, 63 RBIs, and a 1.201 OPS. The Dodgers can only hope that over their final 50-plus games, Ramírez can do for them what he did for the Sox.

Over the last five seasons, the Dodgers have ranked 15th in the NL in homers three times, 11th once, and fourth once, in 2004 when Adrian Beltre hit 48. We know Ramírez can hit them anywhere, at any time.

Ramírez, a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, would join a host of enshrined outfielders, such as Dave Winfield (1990), Willie Mays (1972), and Lou Brock (1964), who were dealt in the middle of a season. Ramírez always has been in great lineups, so we'll see if he will be affected being in a not-so-great one. Being in great lineups surely helped his incredibly balanced numbers for the Indians and Red Sox. He hit .312 for Boston, .313 for Cleveland. He hit 274 homers for Boston, 236 for Cleveland. He knocked in 868 runs for Boston, 804 for Cleveland. He played 1,083 games for Boston, 967 for Cleveland.

Former Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson thinks switching leagues and going to a less-formidable lineup will have little effect on Ramírez.

"I think Manny could hit in a lineup by himself," said Jackson, who is now the hitting coach of the Astros' Triple A affiliate. "David Ortiz needs Manny more than Manny needs David Ortiz. David and I have always been very close, but David knows that Manny helped him see much better pitches. David is a great hitter, but he needs protection. Manny doesn't. That's how good he is."

There's also no getting around the fact that Ramírez helped both the Indians and Red Sox in the postseason. He helped win two World Series in Boston, and appeared in two World Series, losing both, in Cleveland. Torre loves that he's getting a patient hitter, which he had many of in New York. Torre has stressed patience all season, especially to his young hitters, such as James Loney and Matt Kemp. Now he'll be able to point to someone as an example.

Jackson also thought Ramírez wouldn't be affected by changing hitting coaches.

"No, not at all, especially with Don Mattingly, who's very well-respected and respects the players," said Jackson. "He'll respect what Manny brings and he'll use him as an example to the younger hitters because I truly believe that all hitters benefit by watching how he goes about hitting a baseball."

Jackson said the secret to clicking with Ramirez is to communicate with him consistently.

"When he's going well, reinforce to him the things he's doing so well, and when he isn't, go study some video with him and point out what you think he might be doing wrong with his swing," said Jackson. "He's an incredible student of hitting. He sees things from a viewpoint that sometimes he can only see. But in the new league he shouldn't have a problem because there are guys I'm sure he's seen before."

Never use the phrase "shouldn't have a problem" when talking about Ramirez. There's always a problem, but because the Dodgers were having major offensive difficulties, do we dare say that Manny Ramirez stabilizes their team?

Taking a trip to the land of Oz
A few questions for Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith:

Does it seem as if shortstops have changed from the days when you played?

OS: "I think the game has changed from the standpoint that shortstops, when they come into the game now they're expected to present a lot more offense. Before, prototypical shortstops were guys who were good gloves, and they say no hit. I don't think anybody ever makes it to this level and not have the ability to swing the bat some way. Some of us don't swing it with as much power, but you're still able to accomplish a lot of things with the things that you do if you do them consistently.

Anyone remind you of you?

OS: "Omar Vizquel, probably, still playing, and here again I think it's an example of when a guy is given the opportunity, it shows that he can play well beyond 40. What happens when you turn 32, 33 in this game, you start being introduced as '32-year-old, 35-year-old.' It becomes a part of your name, where it didn't matter before. But there's sort of a brainwashing that takes place, and if you're not careful, if you're not strong mentally, then you fall into that. But I think that, as you have seen, guys that are 40 years old and given the opportunity . . . prove that you can play well beyond 40, if they're guys that are taking care of themselves."

Does Vizquel deserve to someday make the Hall of Fame?

OS: "Certainly. I think that he has certainly put himself in a position. I think that guys like myself have probably made it a little bit, hopefully, a little bit easier, paved the way a little bit, and it forces people to look at guys like that a little bit harder than they otherwise would. For a long time this was always reserved for the big guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark, and I think people are now starting to realize that there are a lot more facets to the game other than just offense."

These players shipped to Pirates following trade winds
It's going to be a constant selling job in Pittsburgh, where it's been a long time since the Pirates have won, and it's going to be a long while before they see more wins than losses.

The Pirates decided to take a step back, again, in an effort to move forward. Team president Frank Coonelly and general manager Neal Huntington certainly want to build a winner, but they're going to take a beating publicly before they get there.

The Pirates were the most active team at the trade deadline, making deals with the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox.

They traded outfielders Xavier Nady and Jason Bay, and lefthanded reliever Damaso Marte, three big players from the Dave Littlefield era and three players the fans enjoyed watching. They got in return righthanders Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutcheon, Ross Ohlendorf, Craig Hansen, and Bryan Morris, outfielders Jose Tabata and Brandon Moss, and third baseman Andy LaRoche.

The good news for guys like Karstens, Ohlendorf, and Hansen, who have not made their marks in the majors, is they'll likely get plenty of opportunities. Tabata is only 19, and while he needs to mature, he has talent. Moss should be a steady player who likely will emerge. But none of the players the Pirates got was considered "untouchable" by the Dodgers, Red Sox, or Yankees.

LaRoche is a third baseman the Red Sox once coveted, but he is hitting .214 in 159 major league at-bats. Ohlendorf, who will turn 26 Friday, is the oldest of the eight players the Pirates acquired. Hansen might get the chance to close, and with less pressure he may come into his own.

One baseball executive's take on the Pirates' moves: "Moss might be the most impactful major leaguer they got. They got upper-level prospects, but no one of major impact. Hansen has a good arm. LaRoche has good power, but I don't like him defensively and he won't hit enough.

"I think for the players they traded, they didn't get enough impact back."

Etc.
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. The Red Sox have acquired Canadians at the last two trade deadlines - Jason Bay and Eric Gagné; 2. Whew. L'Montro tells me he'll be in Los Angeles over the weekend with Manny Ramírez, but he's remaining the Sox' "official barber"; 3. I get the feeling general manager Brian Cashman will be with the Yankees for a long time; 4. Things end badly for stars in Boston because in this market players expect the Red Sox to overpay them, and when they don't, players consider management the bad guys.

Doing the waive
We now enter the waiver period, when contending teams hope to trade for that final missing piece. Easy? "I think there are going to be a lot of blocks this year," said one American League GM. "I think there are too many teams who feel they are still in the race to allow relievers or starters to pass through without taking a good long look. It's still early in the process, so maybe as teams fall out there will be fewer teams to worry about." For Boston, Ron Mahay, Will Ohman, or Scott Eyre could be targeted. "There will be teams putting guys with big contracts out there," said the GM. "There may be a team or two that bites on them."

Making a list
Who could be some of the players available on waivers? Start with White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who likely will find himself on the bench with the acquisition of Ken Griffey Jr. A team would have to pick up his money, though. There are Orioles Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar. The Blue Jays might sell Gregg Zaun. The Indians have Rafael Betancourt. The A's might try to deal Bobby Crosby, Mark Ellis, or Alan Embree. The Mariners have a host of guys, including Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, and Adrian Beltre, but it might be tough to get J.J. Putz through waivers. An interesting player could be the Reds' Adam Dunn. He wasn't traded at the deadline, but he might sneak through, as could Bronson Arroyo. The Royals might deal Jose Guillen or Mahay, and the Astros could unload Doug Brocail or Geoff Geary. And the Twins would sell Boof Bonser.

Kyle being Kyle
One interesting thing heard about the Ivan Rodriguez-Kyle Farnsworth deal came from an AL executive, who said, "I'm sure it was a no-brainer for the Yankees. For at some point I think they knew that Kyle Farnsworth, as well as he's pitched, would become Kyle Farnsworth."

One that got away
One amazing deadline story was how the Marlins decided to bag the Ramírez deal even though they would have gotten him for free, would have drawn more fans, and wouldn't have had to give up a lot to the Pirates for a rental. If they indeed wanted an additional $2 million from the Red Sox, that is amazing. Of course, Ramírez would have contributed to their league-worst defense, but while there was some feeling in the organization that Ramírez might not be a good influence on their younger players (how much trouble could he get in in two months?), they had a chance to go for it and dropped the ball. Marlins GM Larry Beinfest usually makes good decisions, so one wonders at what level this one broke down.

No thanks
Mets ownership decided early in the process it didn't want the potential disruption Ramírez would bring, given all the turmoil the team has gone through. If you could have picked one team for Ramírez to go to, it would have been the Mets, given the affection GM Omar Minaya has for him. So this does not bode well as a long-term destination for Ramírez, even though the Mets are in need of a corner outfielder.

Not so fast
I chatted with Nomar Garciaparra last weekend, before his latest injury (sprained MCL, left knee), and he was excited about returning to shortstop. "I think things are coming back to me," he said. "I feel the range is getting better. I just love playing and being out on the field. I'll play anywhere. I've moved to first and to third base before, but you know I enjoy playing shortstop again."

Short hops
The Yankees are hiring the recently retired Hideo Nomo to be their pitching adviser in Japan in the hopes of avoiding another Kei Igawa disaster . . . Rocco Baldelli, who thought his career might be over because of severe leg fatigue, soon could return to the Tampa Bay lineup . . . Don't look now, but Carl Pavano, rehabbing for the low-Single A Charleston RiverDogs, soon could return to the Yankees.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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