One year after boldly trading Nomar Garciaparra, the most popular Red Sox player in a generation, Sox general manager Theo Epstein yesterday was attempting to make another deal just as audacious, one that would send Manny Ramirez, the most prolific righthanded slugger in the last 15 years, to the New York Mets in a three-way deal that also would involve the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
According to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations, the Sox would satisfy Ramirez's request to be traded and deal him to the Mets, where he would be reunited with close friend and fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez. The Mets would also receive righthanded closer Danys Baez from the Devil Rays. The Sox would receive one player from each team: righthanded-hitting outfielder Mike Cameron from the Mets and lefthanded-hitting infielder-outfielder Aubrey Huff. The Devil Rays would receive top prospects: Double A pitcher Anibal Sanchez and possibly Triple A catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Sox, and outfielder Lastings Milledge and pitcher Yusmeiro Petit from the Mets.
''They're in very serious discussions about a deal," one industry source said. ''As of late this afternoon, they have not reached total agreement as to the personnel and the money."
The transaction is sufficiently complicated that it could take until tomorrow's trading deadline of 4 p.m. to consummate. ''There's nothing imminent to report," one source directly involved in the talks said, and another said late last night talks were on hold.
The deal-breaker could be money; Ramirez is owed more than $64 million for the last 3 1/2 years of his contract, and the Sox, according to one source, do not want to subsidize the Mets for any of the contract. The Mets and Sox had discussed a deal for Ramirez last winter, but those talks broke off because the financial component of the deal could not be resolved.
Any deal that includes $1 million or more passing from one team to another would require the approval of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who is in Cooperstown, N.Y., for tomorrow's induction ceremonies at baseball's Hall of Fame.
One Sox source said the club had spoken with 20 teams yesterday, and several had inquired about Ramirez. But the Mets seemed most intent on acquiring him. When Newsday reporter Dave Lennon informed Martinez in the Mets' clubhouse before last night's game about the possible deal, he immediately dialed Ramirez's cellphone number, but his voice mail was full.
''I don't know if there's going to be a trade or not," Martinez said. ''But I'll take Manny any time. I think he would be a great fit here." Asked why he thought Ramirez would be traded, Pedro said, ''There has to be something serious going on up there for Manny to make this public."
While the Sox' decision to move Ramirez may have been forced by his actions in the last couple of weeks -- asking to be traded, jogging down the line on a game-turning play in the 10th inning Tuesday night, then insisting on taking a day off Wednesday even though outfielder Trot Nixon had been injured the night before -- the Sox would be getting out from under a contract they've considered burdensome since Epstein became GM after the 2002 season. Epstein placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers following the 2003 season, when any team could have claimed Ramirez for the $1 waiver price, and later tried to send him to Texas for Alex Rodriguez.
Another significant factor in trading Ramirez now is the fact that after this season, Ramirez earns the right to veto any deal as a player with 10-5 rights, having played 10 years in the big leagues and at least five consecutive years with one team.
The deal is almost certain to provoke fierce debate among Sox fans, since Cameron and Huff are players with resumes that pale alongside that of Ramirez, who is well on his way to posting Hall of Fame credentials. Cameron, 32, is in his ninth full season in the major leagues and has played for three teams: The Reds, Mariners, and Mets. He is a two-time Gold Glove winner and an American League All-Star in 2001 who was moved from center field to right by the Mets this season after they signed free agent Carlos Beltran last winter. A dead-pull hitter, he is batting .264 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs.
Huff, 28, is in his fifth full season in the majors, all with the Devil Rays. Huff, who hit a career-best 34 home runs in 2003, is an average first baseman and a below-average outfielder who also was used at third base for a handful of games by the D-Rays. Huff is batting .270 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs, but his swing lends itself to using the Monster at Fenway Park.
Ramirez is tied with Mark Teixeira of the Rangers and Rodriguez for the American League lead in home runs with 28 and he leads the league in RBIs with 92.
Cameron and Huff, in 1,937 games played, have combined for 282 home runs and 1,010 RBIs. Ramirez, in fewer games (1,631), has more home runs (418) and RBIs (1,362). His career slugging percentage of .598 is the highest of any righthanded hitter (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) since 1990.
Ramirez came into this season having hit at least 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs for seven consecutive seasons, a feat matched only by Rodriguez among active players, and was well on his way to doing so for an eighth season.
Ordinarily, such glittering credentials would virtually guarantee a player would not be dealt. But almost from the time Ramirez signed an eight-year, $160 million contract with the Sox in December 2000 -- the same month in which A-Rod signed a 10-year, $252 million deal, the only contract richer than the one then-Sox owner John Harrington authorized for Ramirez -- the player periodically has expressed unhappiness with Boston.
His latest trade request, according to Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated and confirmed by Sox CEO Larry Lucchino in a radio interview Thursday, was tied to concerns about his lack of privacy, which provoked a snort of disbelief from close friend David Ortiz. ''What does he want, his own clubhouse?" Ortiz said. But one source with direct knowledge of Ramirez's trade demand said the player also had some issues with people in the organization, and did not deny that manager Terry Francona was one of them.
''This thing shouldn't all be pinned on Manny," the source said. ''The Red Sox have tried to get rid of Manny before, and the 10-5 thing is huge."
But judging by Epstein's comments in the weeks leading up to the deadline, and the fact that Ramirez was not the subject of serious discussions until this week, it would appear that the Sox felt that keeping the 2004 World Series MVP on the roster was the best way to attempt to repeat as champions, until his actions this week. Lucchino said the Sox did not rule out that Ramirez's behavior was designed to force the Sox trade, and one source in the organization wondered aloud if Martinez had helped orchestrate this deal.
Francona had Ramirez in the lineup last night for the Sox' 8-5 win over the Minnesota Twins -- Ramirez went 0 for 3 with a walk and heard boos at Fenway Park -- and also attempted to downplay the impact of Ramirez's behavior against the D-Rays.
''I feel like I need to be so careful with what I say," Francona said before the game. ''Evidently, it went farther than I expected. I don't think I was as earth-shakened as Red Sox Nation."
The Ramirez deal would not address the Sox' needs for more pitching, both a starter and a reliever. According to one industry source, the Sox believe the Marlins have elected to keep A.J. Burnett. The deal that would send third baseman Bill Mueller to the Twins for lefthanded reliever J.C. Romero remained alive, although the Twins are insisting a prospect be included -- Sanchez was their target as well -- and the Sox have been balking. Last night, Mueller had two hits (including a home run) and Romero gave up a grand slam to John Olerud.