Not even the New York Yankees, the hometown team he openly pined for, apparently are willing to put up the $20,000 waiver price it would take to claim Ramirez on special irrevocable waivers from the Red Sox. Not when it means assuming the approximately $95 million still due him contractually over the next five years.
"He'll be just fine if he's back in Boston next season," said Jeff Moorad, Ramirez's agent. "He always expressed a desire to play for the Yankees, and in a strange twist of fate, the Red Sox certainly gave him an opportunity to make that happen, although it seems unlikely to me it will. You certainly can't fault the Red Sox for creating a mechanism for that opportunity to come about."
The Red Sox had plans to use the money they'd save on Ramirez to pursue an elite free agent pitcher, such as Bartolo Colon or Kevin Millwood, one industry source familiar with their plans said yesterday, believing they could add offense either through a trade or by signing nontenders, as they did last year with David Ortiz and Kevin Millar.
It appears those plans will have to go on hold, at least temporarily.
"The Yankees have no interest whatsoever" in claiming Ramirez, an industry source said yesterday afternoon, undoubtedly dashing the hopes of both Ramirez, who was hoping for a change of address, and the Red Sox, who were looking to get out from under a contract of an unhappy player and thought the deep-pocketed Yankees had both the need for a power-hitting outfielder and the resources to put up with his foibles.
The Yankees used a platoon in right field, a position Ramirez played regularly in Cleveland before coming to Boston, but apparently have decided they'd rather pursue free agents such as Vladimir Guerrero or Gary Sheffield than claim Ramirez.
"Forty-eight hours is not a lot of time to make a $95 million decision," said one of the few industry executives who could recall a precedent for the action taken by Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. Ten years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers asked special irrevocable waivers on power-hitting outfielder Darryl Strawberry, at the time one of the highest-paid players in the game, and no one placed a claim. The following spring, Strawberry suffered a drug relapse and never played another game for the Dodgers.
One by one, the other big-market possibilities also were counted out. The Orioles? "No interest here," one executive said. The Mets? Efforts to reach new GM Jim Duquette were unsuccessful, but the Mets made it clear this week that their days of picking up bloated contracts, a la Mo Vaughn, are in the past. The Dodgers? With a change in ownership in the works -- Boston real estate developer Frank McCourt is poised to take over the club -- the team is in no position to pull the trigger on such a deal, as much as they could use an offensive upgrade.
Tampa Bay officials laughed at early speculation that they might consider such a move. The Atlanta Braves are downsizing. The Philadelphia Phillies, big spenders last winter (Jim Thome, Millwood), are loaded in the outfield. So are the White Sox, and the Cubs have Sammy Sosa. The Angels have a new owner and a need for a right fielder, but no interest.
"Who's going to take that deal?" said one major league team executive. "There aren't many teams that can afford him. The guy is not a National League player, for one. He can't play defense, and his contract goes forever. And he's a disruptive guy on a good team; what would he be like on a bad team?"
No one was willing to talk on the record, because Major League Baseball mandates that waiver moves be kept confidential. The story in yesterday's New York Times and picked up elsewhere represented a breach of protocol.
"There is a $250,000 fine for commenting on waivers," John W. Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox, said yesterday. "I cannot say if a player is on waivers or not on waivers. I have no comment on these reports."
Here is how the waiver process works. The Red Sox placed Ramirez on waivers at 1 p.m. Wednesday. Clubs had 48 hours, or until 1 p.m. today, to place a waiver claim, which is done on special computer software. The order of waiver claims is done in reverse order of the standings, with American League teams having precedence.
In case of competing claims from teams in the same league, the team with the worse winning percentage gets precedence. At 2 o'clock this afternoon, the Red Sox computer will inform the club which team, if any, placed a claim. Only the team placing the winning claim will be identified, according to one industry executive experienced in the waiver process.
One major league executive pointed out two provisions in Ramirez's contract that might discourage a team from placing a waiver claim, beyond simply the size of the contract. There is a clause stipulating that any team picking up Ramirez's contract must pay him a $1 million assignment bonus. In the case of a trade, the executive said, the obligation for that bonus could be negotiated, with the Red Sox perhaps agreeing to pick it up in order to make the deal.
The other provision concerns no-trade language. Ramirez does not have a no-trade clause in his Sox contract, but according to the executive, there is a clause that stipulates that Ramirez, if dealt to a team that has players with no-trade protection, must get the same protection.
The biggest hindrance facing the Sox in trying to move Ramirez, numerous executives said, is the changing economic landscape of the industry.
"I don't see clubs going above $12 million a year except in rare cases, players that can do everything and are the poster boys of your franchise," one executive for a highly successful big-market team said yesterday.
The audacity of the Sox move had the industry buzzing.
"The guy ranked No. 1 in the Elias ratings for position players," marveled one AL executive, noting Ramirez's position in the statistical rankings used to determine a player's value as a free agent, in terms of compensation picks.
It was well known around the Red Sox that Ramirez has asked for a change of scenery. That's why, one executive said, there was little downside to Epstein taking this unconventional step. "If you've given a player a heads up, and he's already unhappy and wants to move on, then shoot, it's worth the gamble that someone might take him," the executive said.
Even if Ramirez is not taken today, several executives said, it opens the possibility of clubs approaching the Sox about a deal in which the Sox agree to pay a portion of Ramirez's salary. "Maybe if the Sox would eat 20 percent of the contract, teams would find five years at $80 million a little more palatable," one executive said.
Moorad was not lobbying for a deal last night. "We understand that trades and waivers alike are part of the baseball landscape and business," he said. "When we negotiated the contract three years ago with [ex-Sox GM] Dan Duquette, we pushed hard for a no-trade clause and didn't get one. I'm now reminded why we wanted one.
"At the same time, after an initial adjustment period, Manny has been happy in Boston and he will certainly continue to be that way if he's back in Boston next season."
Told that Ortiz said that Ramirez had repeatedly expressed a desire to be traded, Moorad said, "David Ortiz is going to have a busy offseason. He should mind his own business."
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