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Ramirez deal was necessary

Manny memories

On Thursday's Globe 10.0, Nick Cafardo talks about the departure of Manny Ramirez.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / August 1, 2008

For years, the Red Sox have not been able to deal Manny Ramírez because they couldn't receive fair market value for him.

And you know something? They didn't get it this time.

But I'll give the Red Sox credit for this: They made an organizational determination - the players, the manager, the front office, the owners - that this Ramírez disturbance was different and far more volatile than the others and perhaps would linger. It takes guts to deal a superstar in the middle of a pennant race, much as it took guts to deal Nomar Garciaparra in the middle of the 2004 season. At that time, it was seen as waving the proverbial white flag, but instead the Sox hoisted a world championship banner.

Theo Epstein took a beating for it then and will likely take another now, but if you truly understand what had become an untenable situation with Ramírez, then you understand why Epstein overpaid to get rid of someone he felt was bringing down his team.

Obviously, the hope is that this is addition by subtraction, that the bad karma that had seeped into the Sox clubhouse has been exorcised and Jason Bay will bring a breath of fresh air. There's no denying that the Red Sox gave up far more than they hoped to make this deal happen with the Dodgers and Pirates. They gave up Brandon Moss, one of the most popular players among the brass and manager Terry Francona. They gave up Craig Hansen, one of their recent first-round draft picks, who has all the potential in the world, but somehow couldn't get it done. Perhaps in Pittsburgh, a low-key market, Hansen will flourish, and we expect Moss will do what David Murphy has done in Texas - play well and get his career off the ground.

A year from now, we may all be saying: How on earth could they have given up on Manny and a good player like Moss and a good young reliever like Hansen for Jason Bay? But that just goes to show you how dire the situation with Ramírez had become before the Sox shipped him to the Dodgers at the trade deadline yesterday.

The only surprise was that Pirates reliever John Grabow wasn't in this package, as he had been in a potential deal including Florida. The Sox would have given up two prospects in that one, but perhaps because the deal had to be consummated so quickly, it was hard to include that piece. The Sox will likely be able to make a waiver deal for a reliever.

In the end, they didn't believe Manny would let his contractual issues go by the wayside or that another of his tempests would blow over.

After the first three-way deal fell apart and a deal with just the Dodgers fell through, the Red Sox were prepared to bring Manny back and cross their fingers that he wouldn't act up. But when you've won two championships in four years, you don't have to put up with bad behavior.

The Sox' recent skid, coupled with Manny being Manny, simply created bad karma that this team hadn't experienced in some time. Teammates no longer wanted to discuss Manny's problems.

So, here we are. Bay is a neutral figure in a clubhouse. As one scout described him to me, he's a ballplayer who cares, loves to play baseball, and will be 180 degrees different from Manny in terms of respect for the game.

He will not be the talent Manny is, and while their numbers aren't far apart this year, their reputations as hitters are. Ramírez is one of the most feared hitters in the game. If there's such a thing as a game plan in baseball, then teams game-plan for Manny. When you have Ramírez and David Ortiz back to back, it scares the opposing pitcher. There's no denying that.

Bay may not scare people, but pitchers can't make mistakes against him. He should blend nicely into the Sox' lineup, though exactly where he'll hit will be Francona's next dilemma. He's not necessarily a No. 4 hitter in a lineup like this, but that's exactly where he might wind up. The Sox could also use Mike Lowell in the cleanup spot and bat Bay lower. These are things Francona will likely have to experiment with.

"Jason Bay is the most underrated player in the National League," said Houston Astros catcher Brad Ausmus. "He can do many things well. I've always enjoyed watching him. He can run, play defense, hit, hit for power. He'll grow on you when you see him every day because he's a quality all-around player."

But can he replace Ramírez?

"Manny is a more accomplished hitter," Ausmus said. "No question about that. But Jason can do a lot of things that Manny can't do. He brings a lot to the table."

It may be an aberration, but Bay hasn't hit lefthanders very well. This season he's hit .190 against them in 84 at-bats while batting .307 against righthanders. Nobody has a real answer as to why. Former A's manager Ken Macha, a Pittsburgh resident, has a theory: Bay hits much like Kevin Youkilis, with wrist action that sometimes makes it tougher to hit a lefty's changeup.

The other issue will be adapting to a new, bigger, high-pressure market.

This is no small concern for many players, though those who feel they know Bay well believe there will be no problem. In fact, he should have the juices flowing, being in the American League East in a pennant drive. He should blend in nicely with similarly patient hitters like J.D. Drew and Youkilis.

While Bay isn't the force Ramírez is, he grinds out at-bats and should thrive at Fenway Park with the short left-field fence. His stats should improve. So, while the Red Sox were likely discussing just how much difference there would be between Ramírez's production and Bay's, they likely factored playing 81 games at Fenway into the equation and determined the drop-off won't be extreme.

Yet some players who have gone from small or laissez-faire markets to places where they're under a microscope need time to adapt. Drew is a perfect example of a player who needed a full year. The Red Sox have to hope Bay's segue will be far quicker because one of his roles is to provide protection for Ortiz.

If he can't, Ortiz's production could drop.

This is a chance. A risk. Trading Nomar in '04 was risky, but it turned out fine. Maybe the rest of the AL East, the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, and other contenders will jump for joy that Manny is out of the league and Boston may not be as dangerous. It's too bad one of the greatest righthanded hitters of all time had to act this way and end it this way. But yesterday the Red Sox, in the words of Ramírez himself, turned the page and removed a major distraction.

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

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